J.A. Belt Building
227, East Diamond Avenue (MD 124), Gaithersburg, Montgomery County
The John A. Belt Building was constructed in 1903 to replace an 1889 structure which had been destroyed by fire; the present building may incorporate elements of the earlier structure. The main two-story rectangular brick building is four bays wide by two bays deep. The principal (north) facade has three large plate-glass display-type windows on the first story. Originally, the window space in the left (easternmost) ay contained a double 1/1 sash window; set off by a quoined and paneled brick pilaster. This portion of the building is expressed almost as a separate entity. The remaining three bays hold a storefront. The second bay from the right contains a recessed entrance with double doors. There are display windows on either side of the entrance. Above all windows and the entrance are diamond-paned leaded glass windows. The area above the left bay display window is distinct from the other three bays in that the leaded glass is arched, whereas the other leaded glass areas are straight-topped. The four bays of the second-floor alternate between single and paired double-hung sash windows. Each opening is topped by a slightly projected splayed brick arch with projecting keystones. The two-bay-wide first-floor east elevation contains a single door in the right bay topped by a transom, and a single 1/1 sash window in the left bay. The upper sash of this window and the transom above the door appear to have once contained multi-paned "Queen Anne" type windows. The second floor east elevation contains a 1/1 sash window in each bay. There are slightly projected splayed brick arches with projecting keystones above each of these openings. On the north facade, there are three slightly projected brick pilasters with ten recessed courses spaced five rows apart, which create an illusion of classical quoins. The pilasters extend to the entablature; however, at second floor level, the simulated quoins are replaced by long rectangular recessed panels. Capping each of the three pilasters is a square recessed panel. The overall effect is that of columns, which aid to the feeling of massiveness. These pilasters occur on all corners of the building, and between the east bay and the storefront on the north facade. There are square recessed panels under each window between the first and second floors, except above the storefront, where an awning was originally attached. There is a common bond brick water table on all elevations. The main building is flat roofed. There is a wide three-part entablature with brick dentil course an a sculptured pressed-metal parapet. There are four evenly spaced square, recessed panels in the parapet on the north facade which project slightly above the main parapet line. In the center of the east elevation parapet is raised half-lunette inscribed "1903" and underneath, "J.A. Belt." Extending from the rear corner of the east elevation is a two-story flat-roofed brick section, four bays wide, which originally appears to have held Queen Anne-style windows. The interior of the building retains few, if any, of its original architectural elements due to the many changes and renovations it has undergone. Neither original floors, ceilings, surrounds, nor walls are visible.
The J.A. Belt Building is significant for its association with John A. Belt, a well known and substantial entrepreneur in Montgomery County in the late 19th and early 20th century. Belt had established a store in Gaithersburg by 1879; over the next 25 years, Belt was influential in many areas of the city's civic, commercial, and cultural affairs. He served two terms as Postmaster and also as a member of the Board of Commissioners; was a leading exponent of the 1888 extension of the city's corporate limits to double their former area; provided library, stage, and meeting facilities for the use of city residents; and endowed the construction of a Masonic Lodge. The Belt Building derives additional significance from its architecture, which expresses the prominence of its owner in the rich detailing of its pressed-brick facades. When constructed, the building was the most ornate and substantial commercial structure in Gaithersburg; today it remains the only substantially unaltered early-20th century commercial building in the city's business district, which is predominantly characterized by buildings of more recent date and severely compromised integrity. The richly ornamented brickwork of the Belt Building, incorporating pilasters, quoins, corbeling, paneling, splayed and keystoned arches, and a molded and dentiled cornice, is especially noteworthy, as are the leaded-glass transoms above the storefront and first-floor windows on the principal facade.