Forest Glen Seminary


The ad copy should read, “Witness the virulent creep of gentrification in action at historic® Forest Glen Seminary.  While it lasts.  Because gentrification is like a cancer – it will take over until there is nothing distinctive left.”

Vacant, ramshackle dormitories and crumbling school buildings intermingle with brand new luxury condominiums, offering vagrants and investors the unique opportunity to get cozy as neighbors, all within earshot of the Beltway.  But then, Forest Glen has been a bit of a potluck, pragmatic proposition since its inception in 1887.

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Forest Glen began life in as an inn catering to wealthy guests to the nation’s capital, whose effective border was nearly a dozen miles away at the time.  But since it predated the beltway and suburban sprawl by a generation or so, that didn’t go anywhere, and the inn underwent the first in a series of reinventions, becoming an all-girls finishing school known as the Forest Glen Seminary.  The Depression and shifting social norms meant that by the end of the 1930s, the school’s heyday had long passed.  During World War II, the property was confiscated by the U.S. Army and used as a retreat for wounded soldiers.  It fell completely into disuse and disrepair in the last quarter of the twentieth century until the Army divested itself of the property in the early 2000s.  Developers were eager to realize the real estate potential of the land, but a group of local enthusiasts has done their best to maintain the historical integrity of site.

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The result is a peculiar tension between the old and the new, the desiccated and the debutant, the waning and waxing money of America.  The ghosts of a dead elite, who flaunted their status by enrolling their daughters at Forest Glen, skulk amongst the blessed yuppies who can secure a loan large enough to huff the vapors of prestige off of the leftovers of that old money investment.  When money could build something special and not just mass produce the illusion of it.

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Walking the remains on a spring day, I found myself pondering deeper questions than the developers of this “historic housing opportunity” probably ever intended.  What price (both monetary and philosophical) are we willing to pay to conserve and renovate historic buildings?  Where is the tipping point between authentic nineteenth century construction and something that may as well be a new building?  Which bucket of paint or replacement floorboard tips the scale?  Is it the modern cable hook-ups that make it too twenty first century, or is it the sign out in front, there to declare for those unwashed and uninitiated visitors that they are indeed looking at something “historic?”

For the record, the actual ad copy for National Park Seminary Condominiums reads:

NEW PRICING: Condominiums from the low $400s
PRIME LOCATION: Inside the Beltway, 1 mile from Forest Glen Metro
HIGH-END FINISHES: Hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances
HISTORIC FEATURES (per plan): Decorative fireplaces, wainscoting, crown molding
ABUNDANT GREENSPACE: On 13-acre glen, adjacent to Rock Creek Park

Units still available.

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This is a great site that bears repeat visits.  I’ve been three times and found something new each time – another statue in the woods, another cracked window to peep in, a snake to crawl across the palm of my hand while scaling one of these crumbling rock walls, or another explorer with a kernel of truth to share.  Check it out while it’s still halfway weird.

 

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Location

Silver Spring

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The Seminary at Forest Glen

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Discussion

15 thoughts on “Forest Glen Seminary

  1. When was the date of your last visit? And how much of this place is currently untouched? I was planning a visit sometime in the near future, but I’ve found a lot of ads for condos and the finished product. Any thoughts? Thanks! And great article/photos!

    Posted by LK | January 19, 2012, 7:25 pm
    • My last visit was several months ago. Large portions of this site have been redeveloped, and renovation continues… But it’s still worth the trip out, because there are a number of untouched buildings to see.

      Posted by DCinruins. | January 20, 2012, 1:21 pm
  2. Is this place still worth a visit or have I missed the opportunity to the forces of development?

    Posted by BZ | July 20, 2012, 10:19 pm
    • It’s in the throes of redevelopment, but it’s a big place, so there’s still a number of relatively untouched structures.

      One of its current charms is the surreal juxtaposition of retro-looking luxury condos and boarded-up vacant shambles.

      Posted by DCinruins. | July 23, 2012, 6:29 pm
  3. I’m glad that the developing company didn’t just raze the old buildings to the ground and build cookie cutter houses, like usual. They gymnasium is undergoing renovation right now, even though there have been large holes in the roof for years. The new townhouses are built in the same style as the existing buildings, and several of the single family homes on site have been and are being renovated without changing the outward appearance. There are still several abandoned buildings on site that are worth looking at. Also, the apartments are pretty awesome if you’re looking for something different.

    Posted by Penny | August 12, 2013, 6:11 pm
  4. I’m not sure where your snark comes from. How is it gentrification to develop a completely abandoned space? No one was displaced, no Mom and Pop shops closed, and as far as I know, it didn’t lead to any new species extinction.

    The prices at Forest Glen annex are not high for the neighborhoods around it — the rental units are in fact below market rate ($1475 for a three bedroom apartment?!). (I don’t think there will be useful comps for the single family homes that will be made from the pagoda or the Dutch windmill, or the stuccoed Spanish villa across the road, so you might be able to say they’re overpriced when they hit the market.)

    For those of us who’ve lived in Silver Spring during its long period of squalor, it’s a relief to have anything happening at all. Even at its worst, the Downtown is nowhere near as plastic as Bethesda (and is far more affordable) — while housing prices have climbed a bit, they were severely undervalued through the early 2000s and it’s still a great place to live, still cheaper than any other metro accessible area of MC. And other than that one block of Downtown, Silver Spring is still plenty funky.

    The Seminary grounds, both raw and finished areas, are still enchanting. I think the project is a fairly good example of history-sensitive, community-grounded development. Yes, the place was more romantic when it was crumbling and covered in kudzu — but only a goth would say it was better off that way. I took a tour led by Save Our Seminary in the early 90s and it was shameful the way the place had been abandoned for so long — several statues were destroyed or stolen. To develop it as a living part of the suburb where it is… just can’t be wrong, can it?

    Perhaps you’re upset that you didn’t discover this gem sooner? Or sensitive about being new to the area? I don’t get the attitude. Have any raccoons complained about having to move from the old ballroom?

    Posted by Robin | September 21, 2013, 11:19 pm
    • I hear all of your points, Robin… This was one of the first pieces I worked on with regard to this project, and I think at the time I was still struggling to articulate myself well. I feel an ambivalence toward the modern tendency toward a sort of middle brow homogeneity. You asked where the snark came from, and I guess a large part of it is seeing Forest Glen filtered through the vanilla copy of a real estate agent. The Seminary actually has a long history being reappropriated and adapted by new tenants. You’re right – there are far worse things that could be happening there now. I would still argue, though, that while something is certainly gained, something else – without a doubt less quantifiable and therefore less defensible- is lost. A ruin is a tragedy, but it is also a beautiful, meditative space. But I hear your words… Thank you!

      Posted by Thomas Kenning | September 22, 2013, 12:04 am
  5. If you’re going to go see what’s left of this beautiful ruin, I would go NOW. Much of it has been redeveloped, but if you poke around – and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty – then you can be rewarded in your search.

    Posted by John Combs | February 27, 2014, 3:17 pm
  6. Is there anything left of this place? I’m really interested in finding abandoned buildings near the DC area and it’s rare to find somewhere you can actually go inside. Is it worth the trip?

    Posted by Emma | October 17, 2014, 8:36 pm
    • Unfortunately I only recently discovered this particular area and have been desperately wanting to check it out if the renovations aren’t complete yet. I’d say if you can actually go there, it’s completely worth the trip. Few urbanex places are preserved this well.

      Posted by Rich Ellis | December 12, 2014, 1:52 pm
  7. I went there today. Only a few building left that are untouched. Almost completely redeveloped now. Still got some interesting photos, but I can imagine what it was like a couple of years ago.

    Posted by Joe Sirico | January 4, 2015, 9:41 pm
  8. I went here in 2010, and it was beautiful. I’ll have to dig up some of the photos.

    Posted by Donna | January 11, 2016, 10:01 pm
  9. You left out the 30 year work of SOS, the non profit that saved the entire historic site from demolition. It woulf have helped explain the period from 1988 to restoration..

    Posted by Rich Scahffer | July 9, 2016, 8:01 pm
  10. 2 books on the site: “Enchanted Forest Glen” and Images of America “Forest Glen”. The latter has great before and after pics..

    Posted by Rich Schaffer | July 9, 2016, 8:04 pm

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