Old Columbia, New Columbia

January 11, 1995

The notion that a 26-year-old community can have "relics" is downright quaint, to say the least. But that hasn't gotten in the way of a public call for old objets de Columbia -- "old" meaning circa the Nixon administration.

The Columbia Association has announced it seeks to bolster its 13-year-old archives by adding books, magazines, newspaper clippings, photographs, kitschy knick-knacks and assorted other items that touch on the relatively brief history of America's second-largest planned city.

As it happened, the Howard County edition of The Sun that included the Columbia archives story also reported details about the Rouse Co.'s intention to turn its old (there's that word again) Exhibit Center at Lake Kittamaqundi into a restaurant-retail-entertainment complex.

Opened in 1967, the center trumpeted James Rouse's visionary experiment in urban living, until 1989, when the company decided the need to promote Columbia was no longer essential.

For four years, various businesses occupied the 20,000-square-foot building. It has been vacant since a year ago.

But now Fresh Choice, a California-based chain of upscale eateries, plans to put one of its West-Coast-style restaurants in the former Exhibit Center by May. Most likely around the same time, the Rouse Co. will open a dessert shop there. Plans also are being made to bring live entertainment, retail shops and other restaurants to the building's second floor.

Officials of both the Rouse Co. and national chains such as Fresh Choice envision the Lake Kittamaqundi area as a restaurant district that will attract plenty of people ready, willing and able to part with their expendable cash, in the same way that the Snowden Square "power center" shopping complex has become a magnet for big-name companies and consumers alike.

Why do we note the two articles together?

The fact is, Columbia might be changing too rapidly to have some historical identity yet nailed down by its fastidious archivists. The town's guiding forces, true to their "tradition," continue to shape and re-shape the place. Experimental community becomes edge city becomes, maybe, incorporated city.

After that, who knows?

But we expect the results will be cataloged by the folks at the Columbia Association archives, item by item, relic by relic.

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