The IBM Building

December 2004

IBM Building  326 East Montgomery Avenue/50 Monroe Street

IBM Building
326 East Montgomery Avenue/50 Monroe Street

The IBM building, aging emblem of Rockville’s post-war construction boom, currently stands vacant and threatened with demolition.  One of Rockville’s first modernist office buildings, it was constructed by Otho Barkley, a Washington area builder, who leased the property to the IBM Corporation shortly after its completion in 1959.  The address was changed from 326 East Montgomery Avenue to 50 Monroe Street (today Place) following the reconfiguration of street patterns during the urban renewal era of the late 1960s.

It was, architecturally, the most daring of Rockville’s five new office buildings of the late 1950s, an era that also brought reform and modernization to the municipal government, which celebrated its centennial in 1960.  Like other communities in the Washington area, Rockville was rapidly shedding its small town identity following two decades of unprecedented residential development and population growth.  The decentralization of IBM from New York to Washington and its decision to locate the new Federal Systems Division in Rockville signaled the City’s emergence as a burgeoning center of modern commerce.  By early 1960, IBM had transferred 130 employees to its new Rockville office, one in an expanding network of its research and aerospace facilities in the Washington area.

Designed by Bethesda architect Stanley H. Arthur—who also designed the Rockville Library (1971)—the Bauhaus-inspired IBM building was sleek, modern, and state of the art.  Window panels alternating with bands of yellow plates presented a lively façade to the main street; the flat roof was punctuated by a brick service core; the first floor—sheltered by a deep portico—had multiple entryways.  There was even parking for 41 cars, which proved to be inadequate from the outset.  Its architectural significance was underscored in the mid-1960s, when it was identified as one of only nine conservation properties in the mid-City Urban Renewal Project.

Comparatively small by today’s standards, the IBM building has been eclipsed by more recent hi-rise structures and now deteriorates in the shadows of the Americana Centre (1972), Town Center Apartments (1978), and 51 Monroe Street (1978).  IBM vacated the property in the early 1970s following more than a decade of parking shortages and the impact of changes in street patterns.  For the next 25 years, it was leased to a succession of tenants, including the Montgomery County Volunteer Bureau, the States Attorney, and Peerless Rockville, which occupied a small suite on the second floor from May 1989 to March 1990 during renovation of the Red Brick Courthouse.

Despite numerous proposals for rehabilitation, residential conversion, and other uses, the IBM building—as it is still known—has been empty since 1995 and faces an uncertain future.  Without advocacy or immediate intervention, we risk losing an irreplaceable icon of our Town Center’s evolving streetscape.*

*The building was demolished in 2006.