By Teresa B. Lachin, Ph.D.
Situated prominently at 22 West Jefferson Street, the Jefferson Building is one of Rockville’s most elegant office buildings and is, arguably, the best example of Georgian Revival style architecture in the area. Completed in 1959, this handsome three-story brick building was designed by architect John F. Stann for Rockville attorneys David E. Betts, Milton F. Clogg, James B. Davis, and nurseryman Adolph E. Gude, Jr. It housed many of the City’s best-known law firms until 2004, when it was purchased by Christ Episcopal School for classroom and administrative facilities.
Rockville’s postwar commercial architecture was predominantly modernist, a style that underscored the City’s transformation from a small town to a booming suburban center. By contrast, the Jefferson Building was the most architecturally conservative office project of its day and is reminiscent of public buildings reconstructed or restored at Colonial Williamsburg during the 1920s and 1930s. Its overall composition is symmetrical and balanced, in keeping with the mathematical proportions of the Georgian Revival style popularized in the late 19th century for large-scale estate architecture in Newport, Rhode Island and elsewhere. Constructed of brick masonry laid in Flemish bond, the Jefferson Building is capped by a hipped roof with a gleaming surface of slate tiles. Rows of double-hung sash windows are separated by raised belt courses that define the building’s three stories. An attic story carries exterior end chimneys with corbelled caps and eight hipped-roof wooden dormers. A central recessed front doorway is framed in wood and features a broken pediment with urn and slate canopy.
Shortly after its completion in 1959, the Jefferson Building was suggested as a model for Rockville’s new City Hall, with opinion divided over modernist versus traditional architecture. Late in 1960, the Mayor and Council heard public testimony from both sides of the debate. Advocates for contemporary design argued that it offered opportunities for future expansion and spatial versatility; traditionalists favored a style more that evoked Rockville’s Colonial and Revolutionary heritage. In the end, modernism was preferred as practical and in keeping with the spirit of “present day society.” In more recent times, traditionalism has re-emerged in Rockville as an inspiration for residential, commercial, and institutional design.
The Jefferson Building is closely associated with attorney David Betts, who served as President of the Maryland Bar Association and Montgomery Bar Association, among many other important posts. Betts was a 45-year member and Vestryman of Christ Episcopal Church (1887), one of Rockville’s most historic landmarks. His wife, Maude “Sis” Betts, supervised the 1965 renovation and enlargement of the Church, which occupies a site adjacent to the Jefferson Building parking lot. During the renovation, City officials refused to issue a building permit for Church improvements, citing a lack of adequate parking facilities. To resolve the stalemate, David Betts generously offered unrestricted use of the Jefferson Building lot for Church services, a courtesy that continued until 2004, when CES purchased the property.
Traditional in style, the Jefferson Building occupies an important place in Rockville’s recent past, connecting events, individuals and institutions within the framework of the City’s modern and post-modern history. Peerless will continue to study and document this transformative period and celebrate its heritage.