2022 | Development

County project aims to recognize Asian American, Pacific Islander history

Study underway to uncover more locations to designate as historic sites

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The Pao-Chi and Yu Ming Pien home in Bethesda is the only AAPI-related historically designated site in Montgomery County.

via Montgomery County Planning Department

A recent study uncovered significant disparities in the representation of Asian American and Pacific Islander residents in Montgomery County historic property designations — and now county leaders are on a mission to correct the records.

According to the study, conducted by the county Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) residents make up about 15% of the county’s population, but only one property honoring their heritage and contributions in the county has been added to the county’s historic properties list.

“We need to fill that gap and make sure our property inventory reflects that heritage,” said Historic Preservation Planner Kacy Rohn, who is leading the project. She added that there is also underrepresentation at the state and national levels. “So there’s been a real push across all levels of the profession to sort of right that wrong and make sure we’re telling a more accurate history with the places that are designated.”

Through the AAPI Heritage Project, the county’s Planning Department is aiming to more properly record the community’s contributions to the county. Long-term, as more sites are identified, Rohn said the goal is to add more AAPI-related places to the historic designation list, and possibly submit some to be considered as additions to the national registry.

New sites could be added during future master planning processes or individually, Rohn said.

The county’s lone historically designated site related to AAPI heritage is the Pao-Chi and Yu Ming Pien home on MacArthur Boulevard in Bethesda. That site was added to the historic sites list this year.

Pao Chi “Pete” and Yu Ming Pien purchased 7205 MacArthur Boulevard in 1958. It is listed as an outstanding resource within the Potomac Overlook Historic District and is the county’s only designated historic resource recognized for its association with Asian American heritage. (Courtesy Montgomery County Planning Department)

According to Planning Department documents, Pao-Chi Pien worked as a naval architect at the David Taylor Model Basin in Bethesda for 30 years and, after retirement, spent 30 years improving the internal combustion engine. Yu Ming Pien was one of the few female physicians at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring when it opened in the 1960s, documents say.

The Planning Department’s project is funded through a $24,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust, awarded in fiscal 2021.

Through the first phase of the project, staff members have conducted research dating to the early 1900s. Themes in the research so far suggest education, small business development, religion and discrimination are among the largest influences on the lives of the county’s AAPI residents, according to Rohn. Research has included reviewing old newspaper clips, U.S. Census data and scholarly articles, Rohn said. That work has been led by Karen Yee, a graduate assistant intern.

More research, led by a consultant, will be completed in the coming months, Rohn said. The Planning Department has also launched an interactive online tool to gather feedback from community members.

People can use the map to identify places they believe are of particular importance to the AAPI community — homes, businesses, restaurants, neighborhoods.

About two dozen sites have already been suggested, according to the website.

“I think everybody wants to see their culture and their heritage reflected in our communities, so that’s why historic preservation is important, because people have a lot of ties and connections to culturally and historically significant places,” Rohn said. “And so we think that there’s a value in that and we want to be able to understand where those places are so that we can work to preserve them and so that people feel recognized and part of the communities that they live in.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com