New Residence at 306 First Street
Rockville, Maryland 20851
History and Description of the Project
The advertisement in the local real estate publication read "Beautiful corner lot in quiet Rockville neighborhood" The listed price seemed too good to be true. The initial "drive-by" to see the site was challenging. The address they were given seemed not to exist. The future owners, a young architect and his wife, could not find it until they glanced off in the distance and saw the For Sale sign out in the middle of what appeared to be a small neighborhood park. This "beautiful corner lot" was actually at the corner of an unimproved street and a public alley. The situation was very odd, but the price made it rather intriguing.
The couple was informed by their considerable research that the lot for sale was the product of an "improper subdivision" of the back yard of an adjacent home. The lot had a few significant obstacles that needed to be overcome if anyone was to ever build on the land: 1) The lot was not a recorded, legally recognized entity, 2) The lot had no means of entrance or egress; it was landlocked, 3) There was no way to access public utilities, and 4) The seller was a very eccentric man that turned out to have ulterior motives.
The architect was just recently married at the time, with little money, but with significant experience in residential architecture and land planning issues. He and his wife felt up to the challenge. (They were young and a bit naive). After signing a contract to purchase the property (with two pages of contingencies attached), they began their eight-month process of trying to determine if the many problems with this property could be resolved so that it could actually be a buildable site. With the assistance of the Mayor and the City Council, as well as an attorney, a civil engineer, and the future neighbors, they eventually gained the assurance that they could indeed make this property their home. They returned to the seller of the property to finalize the sale. He reported that he had changed his mind, and that the property was no longer for sale. Eventually they were able to persuade him to honor his contract, and they purchased the lot.
Their home was soon thereafter designed for this odd lot. Then construction began, with the architect serving as general contractor. Years passed as the project was slowly, but methodically constructed, and as the construction budget was earned and then invested in the project. The construction was finally completed in the fall of 2004.
The house is accessed by a long driveway (formerly the public alley) off of First Street. It is a small two-story frame, shingle-clad "salt box" building with a covered porch on two sides. The owner/architect's goal was to make this new house sympathetic to the existing East Rockville neighborhood of Janeta, with its mix of turn-of-the-century farmhouses, and post-war infill housing. The house was designed to take advantage of the views and light to the south and west. The major living spaces (living room, dining room, and porch) look out onto the yard and the adjacent public "green space" which is the unimproved street. The house was designed to have an informal, unpretentious"weekend hous" character. Second floor bedrooms were held to minimal sizes to the benefit of the open two-story "great room" of the house. The basement level of the house is now the architect's office and studio.