1958 Perpetual Building Association Building Endangered

Fate of Perpetual building belies name
As golden anniversary nears, postwar International-style
edifice is slated to be razed

Silver Spring Voice
February 2007

by Jerry A. McCoy

Last month marked the 49th anniversary of the opening of downtown Silver Spring's most important example of Postwar International-style architecture, the 1958 Perpetual Building Association, located at 8700 Georgia Avenue.  But the recent posting of two development application signs at that address that call for the razing of the 5-story, 28,848 sq. ft. structure for replacement by a 14-story, 133,138 sq. ft. building does not bode well for the landmark structure's pending "golden" anniversary.  

Perpetual Building Association was founded in Washington, DC in 1881 as the St. George's Society, a group of poker-playing Englishmen who pooled their resources to help members buy new homes in the nation's capital. Evolving into Perpetual Savings Bank, the institution went on to become the Washington area's largest savings and loan.

For over a century Perpetual financed the growth of communities throughout the metropolitan region until mismanagement forced its sale in 1991. Today, SunTrust Bank occupies the ground floor of Perpetual's former Silver Spring office. The remaining floors are leased to a wide variety of tenants, from dance studio Tappers With Attitude to Cameron Medical Group.

Perpetual first opened their Silver Spring office in 1953, leasing space in Silver Spring's original 1927 Masonic Lodge No. 215, still standing at 8435 Georgia Avenue. Desiring to build a new office that would "serve the people of Silver Spring and Montgomery County," Perpetual opened a "magnificent new Silver Spring office" on January 13, 1958, at 8710 (now 8700) Georgia Avenue. A half-page advertisement touting the building's many amenities ran in The Washington Post the day before the doors were opened to the public.

The nationally renowned Bank Building and Equipment Corp. of America, headquartered in St, Louis, Missouri, designed the savings and loan office in collaboration with prominent Washington, DC architect and builder Robert O. Scholz & Co. Cost of the building was the then unheard of amount (for Silver Spring) of $1.5 million ($10.5 million in 2007 dollars). BB & E Corp.'s partnership with a variety of talented architects throughout its history resulted in four of the corporation's banks being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Scholz had previously collaborated with BB & E Corp. in the construction of Perpetual's flagship office, opened in 1953 in Washington, DC at 1111 E Street, NW (since demolished), as well as its Bethesda, Maryland office, opened in 1955 at 7401 Wisconsin Avenue. Renovated in 1988 by Keyes Condon Florance, the Bethesda office was not only incorporated into new add-on construction but also directly inspired its design. Today, these Class A office buildings are collectively known as Bethesda Crescent.

Scholz (1895-1978), a prominent Washington, DC architect and builder, was born in New York and came to Washington in 1918 to work for the U.S. Navy designing yards and dock buildings. Two of Scholz' most prominent Washington, DC buildings, both originally apartments, are the Gothic Revival-style Alban Towers (1928), located at Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenue, NW (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and the Art Deco-style General Scott (1940), located at #1 Scott Circle, NW.

For the Prudential Building Association, Scholz' Postwar International-style design utilized clean, articulated lines and solid surface materials that symbolized permanence and protection. The exteriors of all three of Perpetual's office buildings featured diamond gray and red Carnelian granite on the exterior of the first two floors and limestone on the remaining three.

Quarried near Milbank, SD, Carnelian granite was formed during the Early Proterozoic age and is some of the oldest stone found in North America. The variegated hues and the polished surface of the Carnelian granite used in the construction of 8700 Georgia Avenue are as bright and durable looking today as they were fifty years ago. Not bad for a material that is about two billion years old! One will certainly not be able to say the same of the surface treatments found on many of the cookie-cutter commercial buildings recently constructed in downtown Silver Spring whose facades are covered with a synthetic stucco popularly known as Dryvit.

An outstanding feature of the building's exterior is the two-story, inverted keystone-shaped windows, six of which are located on the building's south side and three on the west side. When standing at the base up these windows and looking up, the five-story structure appears to be much taller than it actually is, lending the building an air of monumentality.

Just as impressive were features found inside of the fully air-conditioned building. Perpetual's main lobby, accessible from both Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street, was 100 feet long and 51 feet wide with a 21-foot ceiling. A mezzanine overlooked eight teller windows that were designed to eliminate waiting and long lines. Officers' desks were no longer segregated behind traditionally solid wooden doors but were located out in the open along one side of the lobby, separated from the flow of traffic by low metal railings. And for the female customers, burdened with all of their packages acquired while shopping Silver Spring's many fine stores, there was a customer lounge designed just for them to serve as "a haven of comfort in a busy day."

But what really made the Perpetual Building Association stand out from its competitors was a civic auditorium located on the lower level that was provided as a public-spirited service and available to all civic and community groups who "must meet and decide on important local issues." And to further assist the community in the democratic process, ample parking for twenty vehicles was provided in the parking lot that wrapped around two sides of the building.

For a building so heralded and appreciated by the Silver Spring community when it opened half a century ago, the prospect of the demolition of the 1958 Perpetual Building Association is extremely disheartening. The Silver Spring Historical Society welcomes dialogue with the building's current owner to explore ways to adaptively reuse this important Silver Spring landmark and to incorporate it into new construction.

If you can share with the Silver Spring Historical Society any photographs or memorabilia of the Perpetual Building Association, please contact SSHS at P.O. Box 1160, Silver Spring, MD 20910-1160, email sshistory@yahoo.com, or call 301-537-1253. The society's Web site is www.sshistory.org.

To see the photographs that originally accompanied this article, click HERE.

To read the January 16, 2008 Gazette article about the campaign to save this structure, click HERE.

To listen to Perpetual Building Association Building hearing held on January 10, 2008, fefore the Montgomery County Planning Board, click HERE and then listen to parts 10, 11, and 12.