There is a wonderland in the middle of Silver Spring – and its open for business.
For the first time in 30 years, the National Park Seminary – which includes 25 unique structures such as an English castle, a Japanese pagoda, a Swiss chalet, a Dutch windmill and a chapel – is open once more as its $110 million historic renovation nears completion. The grounds now feature apartments, condominiums and single-family homes that have been created within the existing historic buildings.
Nestled on 32 acres in a forest glen, the main building of the site began its life as the Ye Forest Inne, a retreat for Washington elite in the late nineteenth century. It later became a finishing school for girls and the school’s founders added the unusual buildings which do the landscape to enrich the girls’ educational experience. During World War II, the United States Army took over the buildings under the War Powers Act and used it as a recuperation spot for injured soldiers until the end of the Vietnam War.
In 1978 the Army abandoned the building, and it fell into disrepair. Vandals broke windows, made off with chandeliers and decay crept throughout the complex. A local preservation group, save Our Seminary, fought to protect the site from destruction, ensuring its existence until The Alexander Company, a re-development firm that specializes in historic sites, took over in 2003.
Since then, the former inn, gymnasium and aloha house have been retrofitted to make room for 89 condominiums and 66 apartments, all without making any significant changes to the building, a requirement of the Maryland Historic Preservation Trust.
Thought the design presented challenges, “we’re used to things that aren’t shaped like they came out of a cookie cutter,” said Joe Alexander, vice president of the Alexander Company. No two floor plans are alike, and the condominiums include dwellings that line the perimeter of a four-story grand ballroom. Another option is two stories and features the high ceilings of the former music conservatory.