From church to pool hall to art center: Hyattsville, Pyramid Atlantic win Preservation Maryland award

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pyramid Atlantic Art Center is hosting a "Pulp Fiction" themed party to celebrate its first anniversary in Hyattsville. Photo by Krissi Humbard

BY KIT SLACK — A couple of years ago, a few neighbors were initially disappointed to learn that the then-pending renovation of the Arcade Building across from Vigilante Coffee on Gallatin Street did not mean that pinball, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong were coming to downtown Hyattsville.  

The machines in the refurbished space are even more vintage, and arguably classier, than arcade game consoles. Those machines, brought there just under a year ago with the relocation of art center Pyramid Atlantic from Silver Spring, include a 1926 Chandler & Price Press, a hand-fed variable speed press whose heavy humming iron wheel can generate more than 200 copies of metal, wood, or photopolymer type in 15 minutes. Besides presses and printing equipment, there’s a darkroom, a woodshop, and facilities for screen printing, papermaking, and book bindery.

“We make contemporary art on antiquated equipment,” said Pyramid Atlantic’s Artistic Director Gretchen Schermerhorn. The 18 artists with studios throughout the complex can use shared equipment on the lower floor, which also houses a gift shop selling everything from dishtowels printed with a fortune teller’s diagram of a hand, to a cookbook, entitled “Bite Me,” handmade by volunteers.  

Exhibitions in the gallery upstairs turn over every six weeks. The high-ceilinged gallery, which can also be rented for events, still has exposed brick arches and the plaster capitals of columns presumably dating from its days as a church at the turn of the century.  

The art center hosts dozens of unique one-day workshops, offered at a 15 percent discount to Hyattsville residents. The workshops are open to those who want to, for example, learn stone lithography, print their own wallpaper, or learn the proper use of power tools by attending the so-called “Girl Power” workshop. Through private lessons or workshops, participants can become qualified to rent and use studio equipment on their own.

From left to right: Pyramid Atlantic Art Center board member Marty Ittner, Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, and Pyramid Atlantic Executive Director Kate Davis accept the Community Choice Award at a dinner on May 11th. Photo courtesy of Preservation Maryland

Last month, Preservation Maryland awarded the City of Hyattsville and Pyramid Atlantic a Community Choice Award for the renovation of the building, as part of its 2016 Best of Maryland Awards program. The Community Choice award recognizes projects around the state that represent the very best happening at the local level of the preservation movement.

“The award for the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center project was to recognize the City of Hyattsville and the organizations that have revitalized the underutilized property in the heart of Hyattsville,” said Preservation Maryland’s Communications Director Meagan Baco. “After thoughtful planning efforts and skilled design and implementation, the once overlooked structure is now home to the Pyramid Arts Center, the Maryland Milestones Heritage Center and the Neighborhood Design Center  – bringing together the arts and history for increased community engagement and heritage tourism.”

Baco According to said, “While the building had some unique purposes in the past, the outside did not tell you much. With the new, and very public and open uses, many more people are now aware of its history.” She added, “It’s these small rehabilitation projects … that are important steps towards bringing an inner ring suburb back from a long period of disinvestment.”

According to a historical pamphlet available in the gift store, when the Arcade Building first opened in 1890, it was as Pinkney Memorial Episcopal Church. The next major renovation was in 1913, when the congregation outgrew the church, and sold it to a developer who flattened its steep roof, and put in four bowling alleys, a movie theater, and a pool hall. The structure was often vacant from the 1940s until its stabilization, in the early 2000s, by the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation.

According to a city press release, the building did at some point also host arcades and shopping. “Our partnership with the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center has restored a community resource to Hyattsville residents and transformed the historic Arcade Building into an anchor of the county’s Gateway Arts District,” said Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. “We thank Preservation Maryland for celebrating creative preservation here and throughout the state.”

The renovation of the building for its current incarnation was funded by a $440,000 loan from the City of Hyattsville, which Pyramid Atlantic is paying back, in lieu of rent, over a 25 year period at 5.5 percent interest.

Two other tenants share the old Arcade Building, the Maryland Milestones/Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, a non-profit which promotes the Anacostia trail system, and the Prince George’s County office of The Neighborhood Design Center, which provides pro bono design services to underserved communities. Maryland Milestones “was thrilled to nominate the City of Hyattsville and Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center” for the award from Preservation Maryland, according to executive director Aaron Marcavitch. “We support the growth of arts programming in the Heritage Area,” he said, adding, “we love art here in the Route 1 corridor, and Pyramid Atlantic is a wonderful addition to the region.”  

To celebrate their first year in Hyattsville, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center curator Molly Ruppert has assembled a group show of 52 artists to mark 52 weeks of occupancy with work priced at $365 or less to mark the days of the year. The opening reception will be held June 23rd from 6-9 p.m.