Police hold open house for new headquarters at former BB&T building

The HCPD held an open house at their new location, the former BB&T Bank building, on Oct. 11. Photo by Maria James

BY EMILY STRAB — The Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) and city administration presented schematic designs for the new police headquarters on Oct. 11, at what was formerly the BB&T Bank building on Hamilton Street. The open house served to give attendees one last glance at the historic interior as well as a glimpse of ideas for the new building once renovation is finished.

Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Chief of Police Douglas Holland each spoke of their support and excitement for the project, with Hollingsworth remarking that this project will be the largest financial undertaking approved by any Hyattsville City Council, and with the chief emphasizing the need for more space as the city’s police department has grown. Hollingsworth observed the large crowd, saying “I think this is a testament to how important our community views this space, and how important our department and our staff views this space.”

In attendance were many councilmembers, police officers, city staff, representatives from the engineering consultant firm Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT), over 100 residents from all over the city, and even the artist Cedric Egeli, who painted the mural that has been part of the building’s history for over 40 years.

This mural, painted by Cedric Egeli, was commissioned by the president of Maryland Federal Savings and Loan
Hammond Welsh in 1971. Photo by Emily Strab

Some residents were concerned about the fate of the mural, as it became familiar through the years as the bank served the community.

“What’s going to happen to the mural? That used to be our bank. They gave us our loan to buy [our] house,” commented Helen Butt.

Many residents received their first loans for the houses they still own in Hyattsville through Maryland Federal Savings and Loan, and saw the mural each time they banked there over many years. The mural, which still hangs in its original location behind the tellers’ counter, was commissioned by the president of Maryland Federal Savings and Loan, Hammond Welsh, in 1971. Maryland Federal Savings and Loan was established in Hyattsville in 1887. Welsh told Egeli that he wanted the mural to depict the story of his grandfather’s first loan in 1887. The man on horseback is the bank’s founder, waving to the family that received the bank’s first loan. The house and family depicted are pure fantasy, but helped realize the story that Welsh’s grandfather had passed down. Egeli recounted, “As an artist, it was hard to get a loan in those days. So, in return for painting the mural, Welsh personally made sure I received a loan from the bank.”

The mural will be removed for restoration while renovation on the building is taking place. Its location in the building upon its return is not yet decided. Many would like to see it in the lobby, but it may be hung in one of the community rooms. The artist, Egeli, mentioned he would like for it to stay in the spot it was painted for, but current plans have that space dedicated to communications and records, so it is unlikely that the public would get to view the mural if it is returned to its original location.

As Hollingsworth mentioned, the community is invested in seeing this space being utilized. After its purchase by the city in 2009, the building has sat vacant and unused. Residents have questioned the wisdom of purchasing the building from BB&T when the bank moved their branch to East-West Highway, and the annoyance of its disuse has grown, while many have made it loud and clear that more community meeting spaces were needed for Hyattsville’s citizens. When designing the layout for the new building, JMT kept this in mind. There will be a large, welcoming lobby, a community/training room, and two other community use rooms on the first floor.

For the police, there will be more office space; storage for evidence and processing; more holding cells; spaces for the K-9s, including a place to wash them; a fitness space; and separate male and female locker spaces, which has become increasingly necessary as more women have joined the force. There will be a public waiting room on the third floor, where most of the meetings and interviews will take place.

As is often the case in Hyattsville, parking may still be an issue. The sally ports where prisoners are escorted in take up parking space in the building’s lot, so public parking at the building may still be tight. Many of the back-up vehicles may still be stored off-site.

Because of the age of the building and its distinctive architecture, JMT has its work cut out for it in designing a space that incorporates 21st century police technology while maintaining the building’s historic character. Work will start soon on the environmental portion of the renovation: tearing out and containing anything that is a hazard and replacing the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation. There are plans to restore the historic façade windows and marble flooring on the first floor, while the rest of the building has already been outfitted with bullet-proof windows. The design details have not yet been worked out, but as Chief Holland said, “This building will be designed for our principals: community policing, having public spaces, and be inviting.”

JMT has estimated a move-in date of early 2020.