Gassing up the time machine for another drive down Rockville Pike

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Readers remember the shopping history of the Maryland road, from E.J. Korvette to G.E.M.

Who says you shouldn’t go back to Rockville?

Well, R.E.M. for starters. I’m guessing that reference will be lost on both the people who are old enough to remember Rockville Pike the way it was 40 or 50 years ago and those who are just becoming familiar with it now.

Many readers chimed in after my column last week on Pike & Rose, the town center development that replaced Mid-Pike Plaza. Several pointed out that, even earlier, that patch of real estate was the home of E.J. Korvette, a department store that also had a location in Baileys Crossroads, Va.

Steven Schattman of Chevy Chase remembers the store as something approaching an Aladdin’s cave of delights: “In addition to all the cheap clothing and home goods, it had many things to interest a teenager, such as a huge hobby department filled with model ships, airplanes and cars, and a model train department with trains, track and all the accessories either assembled or in kit form,” Steven wrote. “On the ground floor there was a pet department that had dozens of tanks of beautiful tropical fish. The crown jewel however was on the top floor. There was a soundproof room that sold very high-quality stereo equipment at discount prices and a huge record department.”

(No, the store’s name didn’t come from “Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans,” as legend has it. It’s a fancified spelling of “corvette,” a type of warship, plus the first initials of its founders, Eugene Ferkauf and Joe Swillenberg.)

Just up the Pike is Congressional Plaza, which has the distinction of being built on the site of a small airport. “It was still an airport when I was a little kid,” Steven wrote. “My father used to take me there to watch the planes. The main hangar later became a skating rink.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our area is a palimpsest, the new covering the old, only to be covered in its own time.

Pike & Rose is on the other side of the Pike from the White Flint Metro station. That station, said Jim Hartnett of Kensington, Md., was built on land that was a golf driving range and an executive nine-hole golf course.

Wrote Jim: “You might also be interested to know that before White Flint Mall was built, that site was occupied by a place called the G. E. M. store, which stood for ‘Government Employee’s Mart.’ It was a membership department store that required you to be a government employee to shop there.”

Fascinating.

For nearly 25 years, Pierre-Marc Daggett has watched the changes along the Pike from his condominium in the Forum, across the street from what is now Pike & Rose. “When I moved there it was ‘Rockville,’ ” he wrote of his mailing address. “Then there was the option to use ‘North Bethesda’ and then it became ‘North Bethesda Town Center.’ My presumption is that it was all to artificially raise the real estate prices because ‘Bethesda’ was ritzier. The Zip code — 20852 — has not changed. I still use ‘Rockville’ as I did when I first moved to the Forum. I sometimes tell people I have moved twice without having a single thing packed.”

Pierre-Marc feels that reconfiguring Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway hasn’t made it any easier for pedestrians. “The maximum time allowed to cross the Pike is 22 seconds,” he wrote of the countdown clock on the traffic signal.

I’ve always suspected that those countdown clocks aren’t really for pedestrians but to let motorists at the red light know how long they have to wait, sort of like a drag-strip Christmas tree.

Peggy Olson has lived in Rockville since 1958. Like me, she’s flummoxed by the Rockville Pike/Montrose Parkway/Randolph Road reconfiguration.

“I have never been able to figure out how to get from Montrose to either north on Rockville Pike or straight ahead to Randolph,” she wrote. “It drives me crazy! I usually end up going south on Rockville Pike and then I make a U-turn to get back to Randolph or north on Rockville Pike.”

Humans are nothing if not resourceful.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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