Homes for sale: One castle, drawbridge missing; a Swiss chalet, minus the Alps; a Dutch windmill with roof deck, and a former chapel with stained glass windows intact. All need tender loving care—and lots of it.
This mélange of quirky decaying buildings, and many more, are part of a $110 million project to preserve and develop the National Park Seminary in Silver Spring. Built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries first as a hotel, and then expanded as a girls school, the assortment of abandoned buildings also includes a black-and-red pagoda, a sprawling Tudor-style main building with a four-story ballroom, and a former gymnasium, complete with mosaic-tiled swimming pool and running track. All will be preserved as housing.
The school, called the National Park Seminary, became one of the premier women’s finishing schools in the country, with tuition higher than that of Harvard then — a lot of which, apparently, went into a flurry of construction.
“The whole place has a sort of Walt Disney feel to it, a fantasy,” said Cynthia Milloy, who is hoping to restore one of the idiosyncratic single-family houses on the 32-acre property. “Whenever we’d see the place, we’d ooh and ahh at the architecture and buildings, but feel terribly sad that they were deteriorating.”
Plaster and paint peel off the walls in pancake-size chunks. Vines creep up crumbling stucco walls. Entire floors of some buildings have caved in, one on top of each other, all the way to the basement.
During World War II, the Army seized the girls school as a place for soldiers to recuperate, calling it the Walter Reed Annex. Over the decades, the Army slowly abandoned the place, and by the late 1970s it was nearly deserted except for curious sightseers and vandals.
Today, bulldozers churn through earth to make way for 90 new townhouses being constructed by Bethesda-based EYA, formerly Eakin/Youngentob Associates, on empty land on the campus, which is bordered by the Beltway on the north side and Rock Creek Park on the south.
The huge main building and many of the outbuildings that once housed the school’s president and served as sorority houses for the girls will be preserved and converted into 89 condominiums and 66 rental apartments by the Alexander Co., a Wisconsin firm that specializes in the adaptation of historic properties. Only one house — bisected by a fallen tree — will be torn down.
This summer, the Alexander Co. sought proposals from individuals and renovation firms for the 13 historic single-family houses on the property. “We are seeking qualified purchasers because I was afraid if we waited, the buildings would deteriorate further,” said Natalie Bock, development project manager for the company.
Restoration and construction by EYA and Alexander will take years, but some of the townhouses are scheduled to be available as early as this spring. Those that abut Rock Creek Park, across the street from the former school’s campus, will be the first to be completed.