When the Rockville Mall was demolished in 1995, many might have thought that the urban renewal trend from the 1970’s was a failed idea. However, this week, the Americana Centre Condominium community was granted a historic designation by the Rockville Mayor and Council and shattered any such thoughts.
With Councilmember Virginia Onley recusing herself since she is a resident owner in the community, the Mayor and Council unanimously approved an ordinance to add a historic district overlay on the property. Voting in favor were Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmembers Beryl Feinberg, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Mark Pierzchala.
“We are thrilled the Mayor and Council endorsed the staff recommendation to award Historic Designation to Americana Centre,” Janet Wilson, President of Americana Centre Condominium, Inc., responded, “Our owners know what a special enclave we have in the downtown area, both from an architectural perspective and a diverse melding of owners from all around the world.”
Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, Ltd., the Historic District Commission, and the Planning Commission were all in favor of the historic designation during the approval process.
The 7.5 acre site of the Americana Centre Condominium property is bordered by Monroe Place on the north, Monroe Street on the west, East Jefferson Street on the south, and Rockville Pike on the east. Considered innovative at the time in was built in 1972, the development introduced high-rise living to downtown Rockville, along with its modern garden apartments and townhouses.
The development won a Merit Award in Urban Design from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and an award from the American Institute of Planners for Excellence in Overall Planning in 1971.
The Americana Centre was designed by Carl M. Freeman and Associates, an architectural firm and developer known throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area for multifamily and mixed-residential housing. The City of Rockville chose the firm to build what was considered a high-density, luxury housing development as part of Rockville’s Mid-City Urban Renewal Program. It’s one of the few remaining examples of development resulting from urban renewal in the city after the demolition of the commercial component.
As Cindy Kebba, Principal Planner, wrote in the City staff report for the historic designation, “Carl M. Freeman was known for exploring new frontiers in building design. He brought innovative elements to his residential designs, including the Americana Centre, such as parklike settings, scenic views, and mixing different residential types in a single project.”
“The Americana Centre is a good example of a modernist multifamily complex that incorporates three different housing types (high-rise, garden apartments and townhouses) within one development while providing a distinct sense of community.”
The historic property includes two high-rise buildings containing 291 units, 22 three-story garden apartment buildings containing 124 units, and ten townhouses. The community was converted from rental apartments to condominiums within a year of being built.
Freeman was at the forefront of reducing “suburban sprawl” when he advocated for zoning laws that allowed denser housing.
Of course, the King Farm and Fallsgrove communities are more modern examples of this same innovative idea. Freeman was decades ahead of what is now considered a basic planning concept.
This designation recognizes the historic significance of this property, especially its place as a visual feature in the core of the City’s landscape.