Save Our Saucer: The Fight to Protect a Space-Age Artifact in Hyattsville, Md.

Posted on: January 24th, 2014 by Katherine Flynn 12 Comments

The library and accompanying saucer were built in 1964 and dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. Credit: Michael Gannon, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
The library and accompanying saucer were built in 1964 and dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy, Jr.

The flying saucer hovering above the doorway of the public library in Hyattsville, Md., is meant to look futuristic, a poured-concrete ode to the Space Race and America’s midcentury fascination with all things extraterrestrial.

Inside, though, the 1964 building is notably dated. “There’s no technology infrastructure,” explains Michael Gannon, associate director for support services at the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. “There are very few electrical outlets, and it’s also barely ADA compliant.” He adds that the windows in the building had to be bolted shut after they frequently slid open by themselves.

Although plans to replace the low-slung, brick modernist building with a brand-new structure are underway, a small but vocal Hyattsville group has spoken out in favor of preserving the approximately 20-foot tall glass and concrete saucer, as well as the library as a whole. The “Save Our Saucer” campaign has garnered more than 500 Facebook “likes,” and while the tone on the page is humorous and lighthearted, giving “Saucer” a personality (a post from last August features the cover of “The Flying Saucer Mystery,” a Nancy Drew novel, while the caption reads “What Saucer read over the weekend”), it’s clear that the space-age relic holds a cherished place in the hearts of longtime Hyattsville residents.

“The saucer, and the building it welcomes people to, has historical, cultural and emotional significance to Hyattsville and the larger community it serves,” the Save Our Saucer campaign stated in an email.

Save Our Saucer is strongly advocating for preserving and updating the entire library as an alternative to demolition, arguing that the saucer might look out of place in the context of a completely new library building. They also argue that the library's technological and ADA-compatibility shortcomings could be just as effectively addressed through a renovation.

The Save Our Saucer campaign is attempting to preserve the entire library, as well as the iconic concrete saucer. Credit: T. Carter Ross, Save Our Saucer
The Save Our Saucer campaign is attempting to preserve the entire library, as well as the iconic concrete saucer.

“The library is one of the few intact midcentury modern public structures in the area, and is likely the most iconic structure in the city of Hyattsville,” says the Save Our Saucer collective, partially spearheaded by Hyattsville resident T. Carter Ross.

While the library has held a community meeting to weigh public opinion and gather input, the consensus among public library employees and county officials is that the current library simply isn't worth saving. Gannon cites a report from a 2010 facility assessment stating that the building would be more expensive to renovate than replace.

“We have buildings that are historical and architecturally significant, and Hyattsville is not one of them,” Gannon says of the larger system of public libraries in Prince George’s County, some of which have won architectural awards.

Outside of the Save Our Saucer group, Gannon explains that public opinion is split on whether the concrete spaceship should be saved. “Some people say they love the saucer, that it reminds them of their childhood, but there are people who are just as vehement the other way,” he says. Love for the saucer has been evident all over Hyattsville, however; local pub Franklins Restaurant recently brewed up a batch of Save Our Saucer-themed beer.

Still, public input will be the most important factor in the development plans moving forward. “We want what the community wants,” Gannon says. “When we get an architect on board, we intend to have more community meetings.”

Construction on a new building was scheduled to start in 2015, but plans are currently on hold while the county considers different architects for the project. At this point, it's unclear if the saucer can be moved without sustaining damage, or what the price tag of moving the entire structure would be.

One of Save Our Saucer’s next moves is going to be attempting to convince the county to conduct a feasibility study for rehabilitation of the library, with the hopes that they will consider saving the building. The saucer could possibly find new life as a freestanding structure, but without the context of the original mid-century library, says the collective, "it would serve more as a memory of what was lost, rather than as a symbol of progress."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores and uncovering the stories behind historic places. Follow her on Twitter at @kateallthetime.

Local Preservationists, Modern Architecture

12 Responses

  1. Suzi Madden Padgett

    January 29, 2014

    my dad, Dennis Madden, was the award-winning architect for this building. I, along with my seven siblings, will do anything we can to help in this effort. Please let us know if there’s anything I can take in among my father’s records that you think would help

  2. Gloria Miller Speaker Farrar

    January 29, 2014

    please don’t tear it down

  3. Karen Hurley

    January 29, 2014

    I am in Waldorf and when one of the old casinos shut down, a local business bought an icon sign and had it replanted. The community loved it!!! Get with the architect for the new structure – plead your case. You may find the new architect will support his past leaders/mentors and keep the original structure for historic value. Get to the SOURCE for the change…..I think you will find the value behind the origin will outweigh the change. Good luck!

  4. Sally Madden Toohey

    January 29, 2014

    I am also a daughter of Dennis Madden and would welcome and appreciate the opportunity to help with the effort to save the saucer my father so brilliantly designed. It is a trademark of the Hyattsville and University Park area and a symbol of community. What’s old can be New again.

  5. T. Carter Ross

    January 30, 2014

    Speaking for Saucer, we’d welcome the help of the Madden family. Your memories of your father’s work on the library and any documents you have from Saucer’s design and development would be an amazing help. Please contact us via email or the Facebook page so we can connect.

  6. Barry Spaar

    January 30, 2014

    As a child during the 60’s we had 2 libraries we could go to, Bladensburg and Hyattsville. Most often we went to Bladensburg because it was closer to our home. It was always special to go the Hyattsville library because it was
    the place with the ‘spaceship’ out front and it was a two level library! Although I haven’t been in the building in years, it still stands as a symbol (at least in my mind) of Hyattsville. I would hope that a new design could be made around the saucer and still look modern or the county would decide to renovate the cuurant building.

  7. Lydia Bonacorda

    January 30, 2014

    Please don’t tear it down! It is worthy of historic preservation as an interesting futurist structure. Sometimes Art is more important than practicalities. As a child, I loved going to the “space ship” library and it’s where I learned to love books. It still charms children and it’s probably one of a handful of interesting buildings in hyattsville–it is worthy of saving and beloved by many!

  8. Craig Purcell

    February 1, 2014

    Indeed a reflection of more optimistic times just five years before we put a man on the moon – the future looked bright and boundless did it not ?

  9. James Fitzpatrick

    February 1, 2014

    obb Robinson via Julie Boynton
    January 29 at 8:07am ·

    Save Our Saucer: The Fight to Protect a Space-Age Artifact in Hyattsville, Md. –
    blog.preservationnation.org
    A midcentury public library and its distinctive saucer-shaped entryway are threatened with demolition. The Save Our Saucer campaign is trying to save it.
    Like · · Share · Stop Notifications
    Katherine Osborne, Rachel Ann and 6 others like this.

    Rachel Ann That is my childhood. I would be sad to see it go. Wish I had been at Franklin’s for a pint of the Save Our Saucer beer.
    January 29 at 8:40am · Edited · Like · 1

    James Fitzpatrick Richard’s father Roy built the Flying Saucer for the county.
    14 hours ago · Like · 4

    James Fitzpatrick A bit of an explanation. He was the construction foreman for the library. He had no problem getting the building up. It was standard issue. But the saucer was an engineering nightmare. It was based on a picture drawn by a child. This had won a contest held by the county for a design of the new building. School children were invited to participate. The sauce won, but no one had constructed something like this out of durable materials before. The support beams had to carry heavy concrete, Conduit had to carry electricity to the lights. a curved skylight had to be constructed. Roy Oscar Hays figured out how to do that, figuring the weight, the steel strength, angle, etc. He was very proud of this accomplishment and it would break my heart to see it go.
    3 hours ago · Like · 1

    Katherine Osborne Thank you for sharing that story, James. Has anyone shared that story with the local news reporters? I wonder if folks in the community know of its beginnings.
    11 minutes ago · Like

    James Fitzpatrick I have just become aware of this impending tragedy through Bobb’s post. Yes, it should be shared. I would expect that the blog people might have some press contacts.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  10. Suzi Madden Padgett

    February 1, 2014

    Mr, Fitzpatrick.. how wonderful to hear this story.as we navigate this issue I would very much like to hear more abut this. was your Dad the foreman?

  11. Craig Purcell

    February 2, 2014

    good example of Googie Architecture

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googie_architecture

  12. James Fitzpatrick

    February 8, 2014

    Ms. Padgett, it was my father-in-law. Happy to share with you what I know. Please contact me via e-mail at james@st-margarets.org