Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2021

History Corner(s)

‘Guarded by Protecting Restrictions’:  The Color of Law in the Four Corners Subdivisions of Silver Spring

By Ken Hawkins

Twentieth-century Maryland, from Baltimore to Four Corners, shares in the grim history of racist housing discrimination common throughout the United States.  Blacks were kept out of the single-family home market, prevented from saving and accumulating intergenerational wealth available to the White middle class.  Politicians and planners used zoning prohibitions on Black residences, restrictive covenants in property conveyances, and limiting housing finance due to race, to guide suburban development in Maryland, Montgomery County, and nationwide.

In economist Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law, we learn that the earliest use of property zoning to enforce racial segregation in the U.S. was in 1910 Baltimore, where it quickly spread across the planning professions and cities nationwide.  In 1917, the Supreme Court overturned the practice on the grounds it violated constitutional rights of parties to contracts.  Developers, builders, real estate agents, and planners created and pursued a host of other ways to segregate Whites into restricted garden suburbs and Blacks and other minorities into urban slums, including minimum costs and standards for single-family houses and neighborhoods, parkways to buffer suburbs from urban areas, recorded “declarations of restrictions and covenants” into purchase contracts and deed instruments, and FHA-backed financing that poured into these uses and places.1

Northwood Park, Feb. 17, 1936, plat no. 652, Montgomery County, Md., showing lot holders and mortgagees that signed a declaration of restrictions and covenants on Nov. 25, 1936, including one prohibiting Blacks from residing there unless as servants.  Subdivision owner Waldo M. Ward signed also, effectively making the entire property fall under the restrictions.

Engineers and technocrats in government and the emerging professions of planning and landscape architecture pushed for controls that guided development in major cities and utilized the District of Columbia and nearby Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland as showcases.  The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), created by Congress in 1927, led efforts in this area.  Its chief engineer, Irving C. Root (recommended for the post by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.), created its first zoning ordinance and a master plan for residential subdivisions, highways, and parks.2  He served on the committee on city planning and zoning at President Hoover’s 1931 conference on housing, which recommended the use of restrictive covenants in real estate contracts to prohibit Blacks from acquiring and residing in new subdivisions.3

In February 1936, Root gave M-NCPPC approval to the subdivision plan for Northwood Park and its two additions by early the following year.  He also, through guidelines that allowed the planning commission to provide engineering consulting directly to owners of subdivisions, assisted George Moss at Woodmoor in 1937–1938, including its actual layout and approved plan.4  Besides meeting M-NCPPC engineering and aesthetic criteria, both included favored mechanisms for Black removal.

The declaration of restrictions and covenants in Northwood Park (Nov. 25, 1936) banned Blacks from residence unless they were servants.  It listed 13 specific property holders by name and lot, in addition to the property of subdivision owner Waldo M. Ward, making it effective across the development.  On June 14, 1937, Woodmoor prohibited Blacks in the entire subdivision and printed its recorded declaration (including the racial covenant) in the sales booklet it handed out to customers.5

General Design Plan of Woodmoor, “The Perfectly Planned Community,” National Real Estate Journal, January 1938, p. 42.  Designed by M-NCPPC’s Serge K. Doubroff and with planning consultation by Irving C. Root, the planning body’s chief engineer, and houses designed by Schreier and Patterson, architects, Woodmoor was advertised as a “highly restricted” community and was controlled with covenants recorded on June 14, 1937.

In 1936, Ward and his partner, James Wilson, had purchased land out of the Edward F. Beale trust from 1854 — specifically, the east half of lot no. 2 — to its heirs, the children of Mary Eliza Beale and William Read, and also directly from George Beale Read, Jr., and his sister Alice H. Read.  Its eastern border with its angular jog (which itself came from the 1850 division of the Gittings estate) was retained in Ward’s new development, Northwood Park.  It was advertised in August 1936 as “guarded by protecting restrictions.”  That was when the first houses were sold in it and the development expanded.  In 1937, Garden Homes, Inc., advertised it as “The Woodland Community” of garden homes, “an established, highly restricted community.”6

Woodmoor, located across the Colesville Pike from Northwood Park, opened in 1937 on land that had also passed from the Gittings to the Beales and trusts the latter established.  It went through a number of hands as Indian Spring Farm, the Labyrinth, and served in the 1880s as a country estate for Carolan O’Brien Bryant (Northwood News, June 2014) and later for supervising architect of the U.S. treasury, Chicagoan Henry Ives Cobb.  The property was eyed for subdivision in the 1920s by the “Indian Spring Village Associates,” D.C. entrepreneur Tom Moore and architect Harvey Warwick and others who had developed the Indian Spring country club on the south side of Old Bladensburg Road (Northwood News, April 2017).  Elaborate plans were formalized and advertised, but nothing was done on the ground.

George J. Moss, who had developed real estate in the area since the 1920s, acquired the property and developed it in 1937 as Woodmoor.  He promoted it with zeal, touting its ties to M-NCPPC staff, even creating radio advertisements for it on a District station, dubbing it “The Perfectly Planned Community.”  All this was for a specific clientele:  Whites who qualified for FHA-insured mortgages.  As Moss proclaimed in the Washington Evening Star in September 1937:

Around it has been thrown PROTECTING RESTRICTIONS that will be STRICTLY ENFORCED, safeguarding for all time against detracting construction or the invasion of any disturbing element. 7

Thus, for over a century from the 1830s, Blacks were legally sanctioned from liberty and rights of person and property in the area that became Northwood Park and Woodmoor, from having been enslaved and traded on it by the Gittings family to being given special notice in the 1930s on prohibitions controlling the holding and transfer of real property by Moss, Ward, and others.

Maryland was among several states whose circuit courts in the 1930s affirmed the use of restrictive covenants.  The subdivisions in Four Corners came as the introduction of government-insured mortgages by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) jump-started the national housing market beginning in 1936 and continuing for years, even as housing shortages plagued Black and minority citizens in Montgomery County and the District.  After World War II, housing remained in high demand, and discrimination continued, though not without protests.  Restrictive covenants in Montgomery County’s Bannockburn area used against Jews were before the courts as the National Lawyers Guild, the NAACP, and others considered cases to appeal to the Supreme Court.8

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the enforceability of racially restrictive covenants in Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948 (334 U.S. 1) but segregation continued in a variety of different guises.  Under the FHA, red-lining was used to control and throttle the availability of house financing based on racial and geographic criteria well into the 1970s.9

Such ongoing concerns existed among minority communities in Maryland, including Jews that endured housing segregation throughout the pre- and post-war periods.  One group of 44 Jewish property buyers formed a cooperative to obtain the best financing it could for its members with the FHA.  Its members built houses and raised families in Northwood Park Village in the mid-1950s — while also including restrictive covenants in their deed instruments to assure desirable qualities in the venture and neighborhood.10

From a regional perspective, not all groups benefited by the largesse of FHA programs in these burgeoning White suburbs.  Between its creation in 1933 and 1960, the FHA insured almost twice as many mortgages in suburban Montgomery county as it did in the District of Columbia.11  Those who met its criteria were able to see their investment in homes become a secure repository and means to transfer accumulated wealth, while those who didn’t were crowded into denser neighborhoods with less opportunities.

The Color of Law closes with a series of challenges and questions Rothstein has had on this topic, including a variant of “why should I care, I wasn’t around when this happened.”  In response, he quotes Sherrilyn Iffil of the NAACP:  “Your ancestors weren’t here in 1776, but you eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July, don’t you?”12  Those with ancestors present in 1776 for the American Revolution (or anyone interested in history) should be willing to acknowledge the structural advantages for Whites long embedded into the U.S. economy around property ownership and equal protection.

[This article was truncated in the printed newsletter.  Hawkins holds a Ph.D. in history and lives in Northwood Park.]   ■

Quotes from Local Covenants

For the purposes of sanitation and health, and to prevent irreparable injury to Waldo M. Ward, his heirs and assigns, and the owners of adjacent real estate, the above described property, the whole or any part thereof, or any structure thereon, shall not be sold, rented, or conveyed to any person or persons whose death rate is at a higher rate than that of the White or Caucasian race.
— Nov. 25, 1936, Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, Northwood Park, Montgomery County deeds, MSA, liber CKW 648, folio 192-95.

No part of the land hereby conveyed shall ever be used, or occupied by, or sold, demised, transferred, conveyed unto, or in trust for, leased, or rented or given to negroes, or any person, or persons, of negro blood or extraction, except that this paragraph shall not be held to exclude partial occupancy of the premises by domestic servants of the grantee, his or her heirs or assigns.
— June 14, 1937, Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, Moss Realty Company, Woodmoor, Montgomery County deeds, MSA, liber CKW 671 folio 55-58.

All lots are intended for use by the Caucasian race. No race or nationality other than those for whom the premises are intended, shall use or occupy any building on any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupance by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant.
— July 7, 1939, Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, Indian Spring Village, Montgomery County deeds, MSA, liber CKW 743, folio 136-38.

For more Information


1 Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 2017), pp. 43-48, 63-91.
2 Irving C. Root, “Planning Progress in Maryland-Washington Metropolitan District,” City Planning, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Jan. 1931), 1-11; Glenn S. Orlin, “Roads and Parks in Harmony,” Washington History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), 58-69.
3 The President’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Planning for Residential Districts, edited by John M. Gries and James Ford (Washington, D.C., National Capital Press, Inc. 1932), vii, 56-58, 73-75. Root served on the Committee on City Planning and Zoning, under Frederic A. Delano, chairman of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission. He was chief M-NCPPC engineer and administrative officer between about 1928 and 1941, when he was appointed superintendent of the National Capital Parks.  Landscape Architecture Magazine, vol. 31, no. 3 (April 1941), pp. 145-46. Orlin, “Roads and Parks,” p. 65.
4 Montgomery County Circuit Court, Subdivision Plats, Maryland State Archives (hereafter MSA): Northwood Park, MSA s1249-008463, Plat no. 652, Feb. 17, 1936; Northwood Park 1st Addition, MSA s1249-008549, Plat no. 738, Sept. 25, 1936; Northwood Park 2nd Addition, MSA s1249-008585, Plat no. 774, Jan. 21, 1937; Woodmoor blocks two and three, MSA s1249-008594, Plat no. 783, Feb. 18, 1937; Woodmoor blocks four and five, MSA s1249-008608, Plat no. 797, Mar. 4, 1937. Accessed at, May 15, 2021.
5 Montgomery County Court (Land Records), MSA, Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, Northwood Park, Nov. 25, 1936, liber CKW 648, folio 192-95; Woodmoor, June 14, 1937, liber CKW 671, folio 55-58. Accessed at May 15, 2021. Moss Realty Company, Woodmoor: The Perfectly Planned Community, sales booklet, ca. 1938, pp. 12-13.
6 Evening Star, Aug. 8, 1936; Evening Star, May 1, 1937, p. 30.
7 Evening Star, Sept. 11, 1937, p 23. See also, George Moss Collection, MSA Special Collections, No. 6239.
8 Garrett Power, “Meade vs. Dennistone: The NAACP’s Test Case To ‘Sue Jim Crow Out of Maryland With The Fourteenth Amendment,’” 63 Maryland Law Review 773 (2004); Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp 190-218; Evening Star, Sept. 30, 1947, p. 23, and Oct. 6, 1947, p. 4.
9 Rothstein, The Color of Law, pp. 77-99.
10 “Protective Covenants,” July 19, 1955, Montgomery County Land Records, liber CKW 2086, folio 451-53, and deeds: 454-554. Northwood Park Village required that any house built in it be of a minimum cost that was twice the national median of $7,354.
11 Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 1985, table 11-2, p 211.
12 Rothstein, The Color of Law, p. 222.

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