The Historical Society doesn’t go in much for outdoor sculpture, but we do have one piece adorning the landscape:

This concrete advertising banner for Rockville’s Woolworth’s store was originally set into the sidewalk in front of the store, on North Washington Street.  The name “WOOLWORTH’S” is stretched across the 9 foot length, in the mid-century typeface used by the store (here’s an example of a storefront in Jamaica Plain, Boston, to compare).

Rockville’s F.W. Woolworth Co. was in one of three strip malls built in the early 1950s on North Washington Street, just outside the established retail district on East Montgomery Avenue.  (In order to build these strip malls, many houses and businesses – including much of an African American community on Middle Lane – were demolished.)  Woolworth’s and other new shops were competition for established local stores and helped change the dynamic of the  retail center, eventually leading to the city’s Urban Renewal movement of the 1960s-80s.

Much could be (and has been) written about Rockville’s Urban Renewal and town center, so we’ll keep to the Woolworth building here.  City directories from the 1950s and 1960s tell us that Woolworth’s, at 15-19 N. Washington Street, was in operation (managed by Edward C. Trewin, Martin J. Coyle, Howard L. Clawson, and J.P. White) until 1970, when the phone book lists the address as “vacant.” The building was not torn down during the early Urban Renewal stages; instead, it was purchased by the City, and housed a variety of private and public tenants (including the City Police Department, and a City-run youth program called Experiment 1) until, in 1982, the building was razed.  An article in the Gazette assured readers that “all the [tenants] have either left, or been relocated [including] Rick’s Barbershop, Rockville Shoe Hospital, and C.I. Smith Color.” (July 15, 1982)

‘Yeah, yeah,’ you may be thinking, ‘that’s great; where are the pictures?’  Alas, not only have I not been able to locate a photo of our sidewalk banner in situ, I can’t even find a photo of the front of the store.  However, lest you doubt me (and the researchers whose work I have used), here’s a 1950s view of the Acorn Motel, on Middle Lane, looking west; a tiny “Woolworth’s” sign can be seen at left, on the building behind the motel. (Very tiny. Click the image to enlarge and you still might not be able to see it.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Rockville – or familiar, but not understanding my location descriptions – here is A Fine Collection’s first attempt (online, anyway) at an annotated photo (click on it to enlarge).  This “Pre-1968” image of downtown Rockville comes from the Sentinel photo collections in our Library; I added some words and arrows.  The Woolworth Building is marked with an X.  Arrows indicate buildings that are still standing today (note that most of the individual storefronts are not arrowed; victims of Urban Renewal), including #1: the 1930s Post Office at Montgomery and Washington; #2, the 1930s grey courthouse; #3, the 1890s Red Brick Courthouse; #4, the little strip mall on N. Washington, which today is home to the Apollo restaurant among other businesses; and #5, the 1920s bank (now an M&T, I think?).   You can also see Jerusalem-Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church (not arrowed, but still standing) at the top of the photo, if you squint.  The Woolworth building site is currently occupied by a new-ish office building.

At any rate, the Woolworth sidewalk sign survived Urban Renewal and all its upheaval, and today can be seen at the top of the stairs leading from the MCHS parking lot to our Administration building.  It was kind of hidden for a while, but this past weekend many diligent volunteers cleaned up the various plantings and gardens around the campus, and they have made Woolworth’s visible once more.

Edited: I forgot to include the close-up photo, for those of you/us who like the actual artifact in addition to all the background info.  Sorry!  Also apologies for the fact that this was taken in the rain, today.  You’ll have to come by and see it for yourself, won’t you?

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