The lake in New Mark Commons. Photo from New Mark Commons.

Modern Maryland: New Mark Commons listed on the National Register

09/01/2017
By Preservation Maryland

In time for their 50th anniversary celebrating, the planned community of New Mark Commons in Montgomery County has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation follows that of Caderock Springs and other mid-century historic resources that are essential to telling the story of the development of Maryland.

NEW MARK COMMONS AT 50

ARTICLE BY JOHN HANSMAN AND PAT REBER

A much-anticipated highlight for our 50th anniversary celebration is now a reality:

On August 4, 2017, New Mark Commons was announced as an Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, culminating a four-year effort for recognition of our community and its visionary builder Edmund Bennett.

Inclusion in the National Register, which is maintained by the National Park Service, is an honor that recognizes the special character of our mid-century modern site planning and architecture. This honor places no limits on architectural changes. Such changes will continue to be governed exclusively by New Mark’s own review process.

This award especially notes the design leadership of developer Ed Bennett and architects Keyes Lethbridge & Condon (KLC). They created the successful cluster plan that mixed town and detached houses, open space, and tree preservation on a rolling site. And they created efficient contemporary designs that have maintained their integrity and utility over many decades.

The application process started with a memorial service for Ed Bennett in June 2013. Former Board president of the community, John Hansman participated in that service at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation where both Bennett and he were members. At that time, John learned that the other major Bennett development, Carderock Springs, had successfully applied for National Register designation.

The key factor in bringing about the historical recognition has been the years-long study of modern architecture in Maryland carried out by the University of Maryland’s Isabelle Gournay from the School of Architecture and Mary Corbin Sies of the Department of American Studies. They had done much of the work for Carderock Springs’ application, and were willing to also help New Mark.

The Board of Directors approved the effort and it was explained to New Mark residents at the annual meeting of March 2014.

The application was completed and submitted to the Maryland Historical Trust in March 2015.  One year later, the Maryland Historical Trust finished its review of New Mark’s application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Our application was approved unanimously, with special mention of the depth of background information.

The next step was approval by the City of Rockville Historic District Commission in June 2016 and the Mayor and Council in August 2016. The community mounted a major demonstration of support before Mayor and Council to convince several elected officials who questioned whether there was enough backing from the residents to warrant their approval. Then the Maryland Historic Trust forwarded the application to the National Park Service, which, after much delay, required that the application be revised to take out most of the properties not designed by KLC.

Many people were involved in this project. While John spearheaded the application effort, it succeeded thanks to the assistance of the University of Maryland; Peerless Rockville; City of Rockville professional staff, Historic District Commission, and Mayor and Council; and many committed New Mark residents.

New Mark is now nationally recognized for the overall site planning of the entire community, as well as the KLC-designed mix of townhouses and detached houses. We are all participants in a special community of which we should be proud.

The strong community response to the effort resonates with Ed Bennett’s original vision, which he stated in his application to the City of Rockville on October 28, 1965: “In our plan, a most important aim is the establishment of a community with which its residents can identify, and which provides an all important sense of  ‘place’ for them.”

The Board is investigating appropriate markers and ceremonies to recognize New Mark’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, owners of properties contributing to the historic district may want to check out possible material benefits for rehabilitation expenditures as outlined by the Maryland Historical Trust.

READ THE NOMINATION

NEW MARK COMMONS WEBSITE

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