A group of citizens in Hyattsville, Maryland, have organized in opposition to the demolition of a local mid-century modern gem. The group calls itself Save Our Sustainable Hyattsville (SOS Hyattsville)* and has launched a campaign opposing the Magruder Pointe development. The proposed development calls for the demolition of the former Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) Headquarters to make room for 83 single-family homes and townhouses.
SOS Hyattsville objects to the proposed development for a range of reasons, including its environmental impact, its limited value to the city, and its failure to capitalize on the potential for preservation to create a distinct, historically rooted community asset. The group has voiced their opposition through a mix of platforms, including personal outreach to neighbors and members of the City Council, public statements at City Council and Planning Committee meetings, op-eds, and an online petition that identifies the WSSC demolition as a "loss of a significant historic resource."
The WSSC operated in Hyattsville from 1939 to 2001 and its building illustrates the evolution of 20th century architecture. The original 1939 headquarters and its two additions completed in 1953 and 1964 are each a product of their time. The 1939 building is decorated with an Art Deco flare, the 1953 addition is a simple example of unadorned modernism, and the 1964 design includes playful mid-century modern materials and details. The 1964 mid-century modern addition, in particular, is a striking example of the period and worthy of preservation and reuse.
In 2005, DC developer Douglas Jemal bought the building and its neighboring parking lot. Despite his success with adaptive reuse projects in DC, Jemal has not developed the site and now plans to sell to Werrlein Properties. Werrlein, however, is likely to go through with the purchase only if it is able to convince the county to approve its request for rezoning. Werrlein plans to construct townhouses in a portion of the site currently zoned for open space. The Hyattsville City Council will vote this month to recommend or not Werrlein's zoning change, which will then be reviewed for a final decision by Prince George's County. SOS Hyattsville has argued that the rezoning conversation is an opportunity for the community to weigh in on the direction that any future development takes and is specifically an opportunity to hold a developer to a more sustainable, preservation-oriented standard.
In many areas, preserving modern architecture is not yet a popular cause. SOS Hyattsville should be lauded for its foresight both to fight for the preservation of modern architecture and to recognize it as a critical part of a multifaceted call for thoughtful design and development within the community.
These photos show the existing conditions of the WSSC building, interior and exterior. Photos by Lucy Moore.
This rendering by SOS Hyattsville member Maureen Vosmek illustrates the reuse of the former WSSC building.
*Lucy Moore is not a resident of Hyattsville but has participated in SOS Hyattsville efforts.