Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Peerless to return dignity to Frieda’s Cottage

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Dick Stoner, vice president of Peerless Rockville, and Eileen McGuckian, executive director, stand in front of Frieda’s Cottage, which the organization will restore.
Years of vacancy are evident when looking at Frieda’s Cottage.

Paint is peeling from the small colonial revival home built in 1936 to attract renowned German psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann to Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium in Rockville.

Still structurally sound, the building that made the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to its former occupant, is in need of costly restoration.

‘‘Do you see the hole in the ceiling over there? That’s part of the charm,” Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation Executive Director Eileen McGuckian quipped, standing in a ground-floor room that Fromm-Reichmann once used to see patients.

On Monday, Peerless Rockville will announce the restoration plan and offer public tours. Situated off Thomas Street, the cottage’s fate is tied to the old Chestnut Lodge building from which a sanitarium, later named the Chestnut Lodge Hospital, operated from 1910 until 1997.

In 1936, the high-end mental health facility was well established, but accounts say that the recruitment of Fromm-Reichmann brought international renown to the hospital.

Already well known for her work in Europe, the doctor wanted to leave Nazi Germany. Building a home to Fromm-Reichmann’s specifications proved the winning attraction Dr. Dexter Bullard, one of four generations of Bullards to operate the hospital, offered the esteemed psychoanalyst.

The two teamed closely together for years, Bullard expanding the hospital size as Fromm-Reichmann worked with many of the most severely psychotic patients.

Designed by prominent Washington, D.C., architect Walter G. Peter and built by local builder Franklin H. Karn, the home is not an architecturally significant structure. Aside from the lack of a full kitchen — the doctor had her meals brought to her from the hospital — the home is but one example of many colonial revivals in the area.

Its historical significance comes from Fromm-Reichmann, a pioneer in the humane treatment of the mentally ill. From her home office, she developed what became the hospital’s specialty, psychotherapy of psychotic patients.

Situated on the old hospital campus, the cottage is where Fromm-Reichmann died of a heart attack in 1957.

Built because of the hospital, the cottage will now be preserved along with the 19th-century lodge next door as part of a land deal that has been in the making for several years.

On June 26, Bethesda-based developer Morton H. Levine deeded the cottage to Peerless Rockville, a local, non-profit preservation group. Levine plans on building condominiums in the hospital’s interior and 36 upscale homes on the land behind it.

Peerless plans to restore the cottage to its condition in 1936 to 1957, an endeavor McGuckian estimates will cost $400,000. The money will come from fundraising, a $200,000 loan from the Maryland Historical Trust and another $100,000 from Levine.

Work on the exterior has already started. Paint has been scraped from the exterior. The former Chestnut Lodge grounds manager has been consulted about landscaping. Volunteers from Our House, a job-training program for teens in Brookeville, have helped clear the yard.

The plan is to lease the building residentially, which should help pay for the restoration work.

McGuckian is excited about preserving the small cottage, which, along with the hospital, has played a big role in Rockville’s history.

The hospital was largely viewed as an asset by Rockville residents, bringing people and money to the once-tiny town and its economy. More recently, the 20-acre hospital property represents some of the last big open spaces in Rockville.

‘‘It’s always been an important location and property in Rockville’s history and it will continue to be,” McGuckian said.

If you go

Peerless Rockville will introduce the restoration team at Frieda’s Cottage at 10 a.m. Monday. The cottage is located at 19 Thomas St. For more information or to RSVP, call 301-762-0096 or go to www.peerlessrockville.org.