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Abandoned Storybook Campus Returns to Life as Residences

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

Before there was Epcot, there was the National Park Seminary. The whimsical residential complex is sited on 32 wooded acres in Silver Spring, Maryland, and features architectural styles that span the globe. Now restored, the 20-building compound was once a hotel, once a school, once an Army installation, and once an absolute wreck.

? The compound originated in 1887 as the Ye Forest Inne, a hotel for wealthy Washingtonians. The enterprise failed, and in 1894 it became the National Park Seminary, an esteemed school where rich girls were trained how to be society women. A distinct clubhouse was built for each of the college's eight sororities. They included a Swiss chalet, Greek temple, Japanese pagoda, and English castle—complete with drawbridge.

? In 1942, the U.S. Army took over the property for use as a recovery center. The last soldier left in 1978, and over the next three decades the approximately 20 historic buildings sat untouched, a favorite destination for explorers and vandals alike. Preservationists, meanwhile, formed a group, Save Our Seminary, to prevent demolition and urge restoration.

? They finally got their wish in 2004 when the Army unloaded the National Park Seminary on Montgomery County. The Alexander Company was chosen to oversee redevelopment. Their construction team uncovered a mess. Water had damaged what the Army and the vandals did not, and the property was contaminated with mercury, asbestos, and lead paint. Still, National Park's unique designs proved salvageable. Completed in 2009, the work cost $110M—$20M more than anticipated.

? The largest buildings were converted into about a hundred condos, including the Queen Anne-style Main Building, formerly the Ye Forest Inne, which houses 50 condos and 66 apartments. Twelve seminary buildings are now single-family homes; most of the former sorority clubhouses have been sold to preservation-minded homeowners. The Gothic Revival-style Grand Ballroom—with its four-story vaulted ceiling and oak buttresses—once again impresses, and Save Our Seminary has led an initiative to spruce up the statues that decorate the grounds.

? As of this writing, two condos are available: a one bedroom in the "low 400s" and a two bedroom in the "upper 400s." The one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments rent from $875 to $1,470 per month. Meanwhile, the buildings that formerly housed the gymnasium, power plant, carriage house, and carpentry shop await rehabilitation into condos.

? Ninety new townhomes also were built on the land, a point of contention for those who wanted the site to retain its historic ambiance and lush, natural setting. But the new construction was needed to offset the cost to revitalize the old. Plus it also doesn't overshadow the positives gained from returning a fallow collection of architecturally unique buildings to grandeur.
· National Park Seminary [official site]
· Alexander Company [official site]
· The Seminary at Forest Glen [Operant]
· Save Our Seminary [official site]