Thursday, August 31, 2023

Fairchild Apartments in Germantown recall the golden age of Montgomery County (Photos)

Montgomery County was once the economic engine of the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Today, it's recognized as economically-moribund by everyone from The Washington Post to Maryland Governor Wes Moore, and has ceded the spotlight to Fairfax County and other booming job centers in Northern Virginia. To see how far Montgomery County has fallen, one only has to look back at its golden age, which lasted roughly from 1960 to 2000. Lockheed Martin and Marriott International are among the few remaining vestiges of that boomtime, a time when a big player like IBM had not just one, but three sites in the county. A new apartment building in Germantown pays elaborate tribute to one of the brightest jewels in Montgomery County's golden age crown, Fairchild Aircraft.

Fairchild was a major aerospace design and manufacturing firm. Its presence in Maryland included a corporate and R&D campus at 20301 Century Boulevard in Germantown, and an aircraft manufacturing plant in Hagerstown. A short runway outside the Germantown site was used by corporate executives to travel between the company's two Maryland campuses aboard a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) turboprop airplane. Curiously, the STOL runway bore a large Iron Cross insignia - - even more curious given the background of the firm's most famous executive, one who is excluded from the tribute.

It's almost hard to believe today, but during the 1970s, the father of spaceflight had an office overlooking I-270. Wernher von Braun served as Fairchild's Vice-President of Engineering and Development from 1972 until his retirement in 1976. A brilliant and complicated man with an equally-complicated history, von Braun was a German pioneer in rocketry. He was also was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and fully aware of the use of slave labor that was utilized at the underground Mittelwerk V-2 rocket assembly plant, labor that was drawn from the adjacent Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp.

The U.S. government looked the other way at the questionable parts of von Braun's resume following World War II, as it did with so many former Nazis it brought to America through the controversial Operation Paperclip, ostensibly to ensure these scientific and engineering wizards didn't end up working for the Soviets. Only through dogged investigation by journalists did the wartime actions of many of these men sooner or later come to public light. Von Braun, through his work for the Department of Defense and NASA, was largely responsible for the United States winning the race to the moon in 1969. He died from cancer shortly after his retirement from Fairchild.

Fairchild Aircraft logo "easter egg"
on the Fairchild Apartments facade

The 1980s brought great changes to Fairchild. Its Hagerstown plant closed in 1984. The end of the Cold War hit the company hard. Orbital Sciences Corporation acquired the Germantown division of the firm, now known as Fairchild Space and Defense Corp., in 1994. Orbital sold FS&D Corp. to the Smiths Group in 2000. Five years later, Smiths announced it would be closing the Germantown campus, which once employed over 1000 people.

Since then, the old Fairchild campus area has slowly begun to redevelop. The latest addition is the Fairchild Apartments development at 20013 Century Boulevard. While many new apartment buildings offer little more than a gimmicky brand name and cookie-cutter design, the Fairchild Apartments development displays great thought and effort in memorializing its namesake company.

A Fairchild Aircraft logo is sculpted right into the facade of the building, for starters. One museum-quality display provides information about the history of the Germantown Fairchild campus, noting that the A-10 Thunderbolt and the landing gear for the space shuttle were both designed there. The Iron Cross runway and campus layout are depicted. It even features a photograph of the Fairchild Porter turboprop lifting off from the Germantown runway!

Another display pays tribute to the founder of Fairchild Industries, Sherman Mills Fairchild. It notes his memorial foundation in Chevy Chase, Maryland "distributes more than $35 million annually to support higher education, fine arts and cultural institutions." There's no display for von Braun.

Fairchild campus layout, including the 
runway with Iron Cross at right

Other displays feature the A-10 Thunderbolt "Warthog," also known as the "Tank Killer," and the Germantown facility's last major project, the Topex/Poseidon satellite. Designed with a NATO-Soviet European ground war in mind, the A-10 instead ended up as the most-feared nemesis of tank crews in the third-world nations America invaded in the post-Soviet era. The Topex/Poseidon mapped the topography and circulation of Earth's oceans as they had never been seen before, from its launch in August 1992 until its mission-ending malfunction in 2008. It's still up there somewhere, circling the Earth.

Down on Earth, part of the Fairchild campus is still here, as well - - albeit reclaimed by nature. Street names at a townhome development further up Century Boulevard recall Fairchild, and some of its famous products, like the C-119 "Flying Boxcar." One street there, Stol Run, is a nod to Fairchild's iconic STOL runway. More developments, especially those built on or near historic sites, should incorporate those past landmarks and associated individuals to the same degree that the Fairchild Apartments have here in Germantown.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Armed carjacking in downtown Silver Spring

Montgomery County police responded to a report of an armed carjacking in downtown Silver Spring early yesterday morning, August 29, 2023. The carjacking was reported at the 7-Eleven at 7980 Georgia Avenue at 3:19 AM Tuesday. MoCo PG News reports that a juvenile robbed a victim at the Gramax Apartments on 13th Street, while displaying what appeared to be a handgun in his waistband. The male suspect then rode a Lime bike to the 7-Eleven, where he carjacked a grey Toyota Corolla.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Strong-arm robbery at Cloverly gas station

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a strong-arm robbery at a gas station in Cloverly early yesterday morning, August 28, 2023. The robbery was reported at a gas station in th 15500 block of New Hampshire Avenue at 2:21 AM Monday. There is a Citgo station on that block of New Hampshire.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Armed carjacking in Calverton

Montgomery County police responded to a report of an armed carjacking in Calverton early Friday morning, August 25, 2023. The carjacking was reported in the 2900 block of Calverton Boulevard at 5:43 AM. Montgomery County is on track to exceed the total number of carjackings reported in 2022 this year.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Assault at Wheaton Plaza

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a 2nd-degree assault at Westfield's Wheaton Plaza mall on Wednesday afternoon, August 23, 2023. The assault was reported at the mall at 4:24 PM.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

UNIQLO sets opening date at Downtown Silver Spring

will officially open at 914 Ellsworth Drive at Downtown Silver Spring tomorrow, Friday, August 25, 2023. To celebrate the opening, UNIQLO is giving away a $100 store gift card. Text UNIQLO to 301-750-1287 by midnight on August 27 to enter the giveaway. Give the interior fit-out construction team some well-earned respect: UNIQLO's Friday opening is way ahead of schedule, beating property owner Peterson Cos.' early-fall delivery estimate by nearly a month. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Eleanor cleared out at Downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

Signage has been removed from The Eleanor, and the interior has been partially cleared out. The arcade machines are gone, but furniture has been stacked up inside. Property owner Peterson Cos. is now marketing the space for lease as a future restaurant. The Eleanor opened just 10 days before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Montgomery County, and closed this summer. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Silver Spring office-to-apartments conversion update (Photos)

Long before the national commercial real estate conversation turned to the topic of converting office buildings into residential ones, the phenomenon was already happening organically in downtown Silver Spring. Here's a look at the progress at the site of the latest office-to-apartments conversion, the Guardian Building at 8605 Cameron Street, off Georgia Avenue. The project is not exactly advancing at a rapid pace, but you can see the Georgia Avenue-facing office facade has been demolished since my last update in May. 

When completed, the reimagined residential property will be about double the height of the original Guardian Building. It will replace mostly-vacant offices with 177 apartments, and 7496 SF of retail and restaurant space. I am including a rendering of the future building at the bottom, to give you an idea of what is in store for this corner. If you always wanted to live in the Guardian Building, my guesstimate is that your dream may come true in 2025.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Fabulous Lounge update in Silver Spring

Fabulous Lounge
postponed its planned grand opening last Friday, August 18, 2023. Yesterday, the "OPEN" sign was lit up outside the club at 949 Bonifant Street, and there appeared to be people inside. You can see the sign lit in the photo below. However, when I checked their social media page later, no update about an opening had been posted. So if you are in the area of Fabulous Lounge already, you might want to check it out - - perhaps a soft opening? But if you are not in the area, I wouldn't advise making a long trip there until there is an official announcement.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Outback Steakhouse construction update in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

I don't know why Outback Steakhouse was trending on Twitter yesterday, but it's definitely trending in downtown Silver Spring. Construction is rounding the final bend on the new Outback inside the Ellsworth Place mall. You can see some of the long banquette seating that is so annoying to use, especially if you're not at the end of the table. Many light fixtures have been installed. Slow but steady wins the game here, as construction began way back in May. Somebody get Paul Hogan on the phone.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Fabulous Lounge postpones opening in Silver Spring

The final preparations are being made for the opening of Fabulous Lounge at 949 Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring. But tomorrow's scheduled grand opening has been postponed, the new nightspot has announced. No reason was cited, other than "unforeseen circumstances beyond our control." That didn't deter workers from putting the finishing touches on the club's exterior. Stay tuned for a new opening date.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Pizza Hut opening imminent in Four Corners (Photos)

The new Pizza Hut at 10100-A Colesville Road in the Four Corners area of Silver Spring looks like it's ready to open any day now. Pizza Hut's website for this location, and a sign on the front door, only say "coming soon." Construction is complete, and posters featuring the latest limited-edition menu items have been placed in the front windows. In a nice touch, the tiny carry-out pizzeria includes some of the iconic Tiffany-style Pizza Hut lamps overhead. When it opens, operating hours will be 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM Sunday through Thursday, and 11:00 AM to 12:00 midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.