Thursday, September 24, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole at National Park Seminary

With a mix of decaying and revamped historic buildings tucked among cookie-cutter suburban dreams, Maryland's National Park Seminary, an adventurous attempt at adaptive reuse, is surely the most unique new community regionally, if not nationally. The collaborative development team of The Alexander Company and EYA will sponsor a "ribbon cutting" today, highlighting the new construction and first stages of historic renovations ready for tenants, particularly the newly finished Ballroom condos.

A surreal, 32-acre conservation area is the setting for 280 new and rehabbed residences culled from an international showcase of homes - think Swiss mountain lodge next to Dutch windmill, astride American colonial. Shopping for a Japanese Pagoda? Yes, but you will have to wait, Alexander is still using it as office space.

The beltway-hugging Silver Spring site includes new townhomes, historic condominiums, rental apartments and historic single-family homes, formerly an elite girls finishing school and the United States Army quarters (an exemplar of mixed-use). The land extends to I-495 and a few new townhomes have back porch access to Rock Creek Park. The nearest metro, Forest Glen, is about a mile from the site, so residents working in DC will be stuck commuting up 16th street, the most direct route to downtown.

The Seminary has an interesting recent history as well: having identified the property as surplus, in 2001, the U.S. Army tried to raze the historic structures, but local preservationist Save Our Seminary banded together to prevent the historic loss. The federal government then turned the land over to Montgomery County, which selected Alexander as the developer in 2004 after a competitive RFP. Alexander, both the developer and architect, worked with EYA as a local partner for the new construction and hired Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse as general contractor. The historic preservation is valued at over $150 million, which Alexander hopes to offset through sales of the new construction.

Dan Peters, Director of Communications for Alexander, highlighted the unique buying opportunity of historic units, "not one of the condos or apartments has the same floor plan...the site is the most unique residential development in the country." No argument here. The single-family historic homes designed to look like international dwellings and the hodgepodge designs of the condos are unexampled, one part World Fair, one part Alice in Wonderland. Interspersed are the mostly-standard townhomes of EYA - generally the epitome of architectural sameness at home in any suburban cul de sac, for one of the most eclectic juxtapositions outside of a museum.

Since sales began in January 2006, all but 4 of the 90 new EYA townhomes have sold and the 66 historic rental apartments are fully leased, though only 20 of the 50 historic condos, which began delivering in late 2007, are spoken for at present. Only two of the historic single-family homes have sold so far.

The one, two and three-bedroom EYA townhomes range from $400,000 to $900,000. The 90 new townhomes and courtyard homes feature Spanish Mission, English Tudor, and Arts & Crafts architectural styles.

With only 4 new townhomes left for sale, buyers may want to fix their gaze on the condos or the historic single-family homes. The condo, pictured at right, features stained glass throughout, a lofted bedroom and reportedly sold for nearly $1.5 million. The first phase of historic condos is just about entirely complete and the second phase, which will tackle historic buildings including the gymnasium, the stables, the servants quarters and carpenter's shop, is set to begin in spring of 2010. Peters indicated construction would take between 12 and 18 months to complete.

Peters notes that historic single-family homes will demand a knack for historic preservation to meet the county's standards. Though to date only two of the homes have sold, the developer was optimistic that sales of historic condos would pick up with the progression of construction - a benefit of selling a concept versus a finished product. But with an entire phase of construction remaining, buyers may still need an active imagination.


IMGoph on Sep 24, 2009, 10:29:00 AM said...

see, this is what could have been done with st. e's, instead of the travesty that has befallen its new life as the DHS bunker. it could have been integrated into the wider community, instead of remaining walled off for all time.

Tom A. on Sep 24, 2009, 11:26:00 AM said...

Shaun, because the metro is a mile away, everyone will just drive downtown? That's an illogical and annoying statement. Sure, many people are too fat and lazy to walk 15-20 minutes to the metro. But why wouldn't people drive the one mile to Forest Glen?

Shaun on Sep 24, 2009, 11:30:00 AM said...

Tom A. the two statements weren't meant to be mutually exclusive. It's true that people could drive to the metro and very well may. We've got nothing against mass transit my friend.

Eric on Sep 24, 2009, 2:02:00 PM said...

Nobody will be walking to the Metro from here. It's not a pedestrian friendly route. They WILL be driving to the Metro, however. I'm sure of that. I've lived down the street from the seminary all my life. When we were younger (middle and high school) you could go play amidst the "ruins" (some of which actually looked like greco-roman ruins) and a couple friends of mine actually would make short films set in the place. Since MoCo received ownership of the property and Alexander and EYA have taken over the rehab and construction, I've been very happy with the result, and it's good to know that they're actually making sales. The last thing this site needs is another failed reuse, and with these residences, it should ensure a long life for these buildings.

Shaun, it would be helpful to link to the historic website that shows what the seminary used to look like. It didn't begin as a seminary or army quarters. It was built as a country resort away from the city, and only when that venture eventually failed did it become a girls seminary.

Anonymous said...

It was actually built as an exclusive girls' school. When the owner returned from the Chicago World's Fair he got the idea of allowing the soroities to choose the architecture for their club houses from styles inspired by the fair. The result was the Villa, Pagoda, Swiss Chalet etc. The girls made a great effort, with the assistance of an architect, to make the dwellings realtistic copies. The army took over the school and destroyed the place. Shame on them. The gardens alone cost a fortune with their plant species, custom bridges, sculpture and other unique features. So many valuable pieces were ruined or stolen, and the place was treated with complete disregard until it was finally rescued by the historical society. This is truly a magical place and I'm happy the restoration is proceeding so well. I don't love the new condos but whatever is necessary to make a go of it is ok with me. Do go to the historical website, it's a fascinating read!

Anonymous said...

The problem with the single family homes may be that it is very difficult now to get a construction loan. Anybody know which ones are still for sale?
Also, what's the plan for the VA hospital over there?

Anonymous said...

My wife and I looked at NPS for a new home. Two things of interest (to me anyway):

1. Ride-On stops in the middle of the place and takes you straight to Silver Spring Metro. Easy as pie, so we were told.

2. The condos are waaaay too expensive for their size and lack of garage parking.

Anonymous said...

I agree no one will walk to the metro, but they might walk to the Purple line which will have a stop on nearby Brookville road. It's a light warehouse area that's prime for redevelopment once the train goes through. What they need is some kind of shopping area. This could be achieved in the Brookville road area.

Scenic Artisan on Sep 26, 2009, 12:20:00 PM said...

this is pretty fascinating.
i love this kind of reuse.

IMGoph, us usual, i agree.

Toronto real estate on Sep 26, 2009, 4:28:00 PM said...

Hello, thank you for the article, it made me really happy. I really appreciate that the historic buildings were preserved and, therefore, will be kept for the future generations. I also agree with Tom A. that even though the metro stop is a mile away people will walk or drive it.

Take care,


Tom A. on Sep 28, 2009, 11:03:00 AM said...

Hey I did the tour on Saturday which was led by the "Save Our Seminary" group. It was fascinating!

I think most of the sororities are still for sale as single family homes, but they need complete restoration by whomever purchases them.

Anonymous said...

I bought one of the historic condos here and I totally regret it! The sales agent lied about numerous things related to construction and soundproofing materials as well as delivery date...and the Alexander company (the developer) is being unresponsive to what is clearly a case of real estate misrepresentation. I basically bought something that doesn't exist--and they have no intention of trying to make it even close to the dream they sold. Don't buy here!

Was Buf., Now Was. on Jun 6, 2011, 12:15:00 PM said...

I know this is a two-year-old post, but I thought someone might be interested in an update. We just closed on the American Bungalow single-family home, and rehabilitation of the Dutch Windmill next door is well underway. Unfortunately, financing on the beautiful Georgian Colonial fell through, so it'll be back on the market. We can't wait to live there once rehab's done... our kids will go to Woodlin Elementary, and I will definitely be using Forest Glen Metro station, since as DC transplants we only have one car. I plan on buying a bike to make the trek, but as a former Buffalo News paperboy growing up, I'm used to walking a mile in adverse weather conditions, so the mile walk between the house and the Metro isn't too daunting (except for in the heat of the summer!). If you're interested, we're beginning a blog focused on the rehab of our place at

IMGoph on Jun 6, 2011, 12:20:00 PM said...

Was Buf., Now Was.: Awesome!


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