Restaurant becomes an eBay bargain
Little Tavern's listing on Web site surprises area preservationists
by Meredith Hooker
The Silver Spring Gazette
March 19, 2003
Silver Spring-related items recently found on eBay.com: Mi Rancho gift certificates, a Montgomery Blair High School yearbook, and the former Little Tavern building now owned by Pyramid Atlantic.
The nearly 70-year-old building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Ripley Street is described on the popular bidding and buying Web site as a "nostalgic little structure" and is being advertised in hopes that someone will purchase it in lieu of destroying it to make room for Pyramid Atlantic's new Silver Spring headquarters, said Helen Frederick, executive artistic director.
Several Silver Spring residents were surprised and disappointed by the ad and would like Pyramid Atlantic to use the property rather than sell it. Originally, Pyramid Atlantic was going to use the property as a café.
The Riverdale nonprofit organization is devoted to the fine arts of printmaking, papermaking and bookmaking.
Unlike many items on eBay, there is no bidding on the property, for which Pyramid Atlantic is asking $89,000. Interested parties must contact the organization for more information, she said. Little Tavern's presence on eBay only serves as a form of advertisement, she said, and added that the medium is no different than using word-of-mouth or a classified ad.
But Little Tavern's debut on the Web site was a surprise to some local residents. A Silver Spring Historical Society member found the advertisement on eBay and sent an e-mail to Jerry McCoy, society president.
"I opened it up and my jaw dropped," he said. "I'm always doing searches on eBay for Silver Spring. I guess you could say I'm trying to buy back Silver Spring history." He said others in the historical society often do the same.
But so far, the building has attracted the attention of only one eBay surfer, and that person did not have sufficient land for the Little Tavern, Frederick said.
"Our hope was that a collector with land may think it would be a nice structure to have," said Cheryl Derricotte, financial and facilities project manager for Pyramid Atlantic. "Our goal was to sell the property and reinvest the money into the project."
Pyramid Atlantic is renovating the warehouse at the rear of the building, which had served as Little Tavern's corporate headquarters, and would like to expand the parking lot, she said. The organization also would like to add community amenities, including an art gallery and a lecture hall for art and education programs, she said.
Because of Little Tavern's age, the building does not meet building code standards or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, Frederick said, which is why Pyramid Atlantic has opted to remove it.
The site is not in Montgomery County's master plan in the inventory of historic property, so Pyramid Atlantic determined it would be acceptable to sell the building and have it moved somewhere else, she said.
Little Tavern may not be on Montgomery County's Locational Atlas and Index of Historic Sites, but it is a structure that many residents hold dear.
So dear, in fact, that it holds a non-technical, informal designation amongst some of its admirers: NOB, or Neat Old Building.
NOBs may not meet specific requirements to be designated as historic, but have meaning to the community and evoke feelings, said Wayne Goldstein, president of Montgomery Preservation Inc.
Many residents, particularly baby boomers, associate the small, white building with their youth, when 5-cent mini-hamburgers were popular at the restaurant chain, considered one of the first fast-food outlets. The Silver Spring building is one of the last Little Taverns in the area.
Another Little Tavern in Wheaton, at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road, Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive, will be razed to make room for an office and retail development. That site was also not designated as historic. The National Capital Trolley Museum had hoped to acquire its facade, said Wesley Paulson, museum director of development. But Greenhill Capital, Little Tavern's owner, sold the facade. It has been stripped from the building.
"If you've got a neat old building, use it," Goldstein said. "Given it is part of the landscape and streetscape, I would encourage any owner to reuse the property or incorporate it."
Little Tavern and its warehouse have been part of downtown Silver Spring's streetscape since 1935, McCoy said. Its roadside architecture was designed to attract attention from passersby, he said.
"The architectural style was as avant-garde then as it is now," he said.
The building's Tudor style was supposed to evoke friendliness but also incorporated modern materials, he said, and the building used to have neon signs. It closed in the mid-1980s, he said.
In fact, McCoy said, Little Tavern was on Montgomery County's locational atlas in the 1980s and was dropped.
"Somebody at some time thought it was worthy enough to be listed as [historic]," she said.
In June 2001, when Pyramid Atlantic first publicized its upcoming move to downtown Silver Spring, it published an artist's rendering of the design for the new site which included the Little Tavern, McCoy said.
"I was pleased," McCoy said. "I was like, 'Here's an organization that appreciates the community's architectural history.'"
But in 2002, the rendering changed and a cube was drawn in the place of the Little Tavern, he said.
McCoy has suggested moving the building across the street to county-owned property next to the Norman Lane statue. However, he does not know who would pay for the relocation.
"We're trying to hang on to the best of Silver Spring's architectural history," he said. "Little Tavern is in the best category. We're not trying to save all the properties."
The Silver Spring Historical Society and Montgomery Preservation Inc. have had some success in saving historic properties. The Silver Theatre has been refurbished, and the Tastee Diner was moved to a new location to make way for downtown redevelopment.
The past can be preserved without impeding growth, Goldstein said. He said he supports McCoy's idea of relocating the building.
Both McCoy and Goldstein said the historical society and MPI do not want to act as obstructionists.
"We really want to work with Pyramid Atlantic to come to a good conclusion," McCoy said.