By: Ashley Edokpayi
APR. 27, 2014
Arts District walkers stop for a peek at an abstract painting display while neighborhood gym-goers begin their Saturday evening treadmill run just next door. ‘The Lustine Center’ sign sits atop of the building in bold capital letters and glowing in red luminescent lights, grabbing the attention of those driving along Route One in Hyattsville.
A place that once attracted thousands of automobile buyers from all over the country, the 6,000-square-foot Lustine Center is one of Hyattsville’s historic gems that live on—but instead as an art gallery and fitness center since 2009. Its unaltered funky-vintage look fits right in with the contemporary artsy scene of the Arts District neighborhood.
As Hyattsville’s Route One has seen vast growth in past five years with the establishment of the Gateway Arts District, The Lustine Center is one of the areas few remaining historic places. With tall-curving show windows extending up to a flat canopy roof, the elegant showroom is the only automobile dealership from the World War II era that still stands in the D.C. metro area.
The city and EYA residential builders put $2 million into renovations of the showroom in 2003 during the first phase of the Arts District’s construction. They chose to keep some of the classic features of the showroom such as tall columns wrapped in silver mirrors and Chevy murals.
“It’s funny because my grandfather used to tell me stories of when he couldn’t wait to get to The Lustine and check out new cars back in the 40’s,” said 22-year-old Hyattsville resident Harley White.
“I always come for the art exhibits but I always think about those stories and his 1948 Chevy Fleetline,” he said.
With the closing of other historic spots along Route One in Hyattsville, like the 50-year-old Calvert House Inn seafood restaurant that closed in February, The Lustine Center shows how an old space can be utilized for modern use for the hipper crowd that has come into Hyattsville.
The center’s art gallery which opened in March 2009 has featured a variety of exhibits ranging from photography displays, 3D glass and metal figures and paintings—all from local DC and Maryland artists. The gallery is operated and run by Jesse Cohen, founder of artdc.org, and has given artists a chance to successfully exhibit and sell their work.
“With the arts district growing it’s important for local artists to have opportunities to gain exposure,” said HCDC Development Coordinator Justin Fair. The Lustine Gallery has done just that by offering consistently great shows which highlight DC and surrounding area artists, according to visitors. “The gallery is an example of the District stimulating economic development, especially for the artist community here,” said Fair.
In addition to the gallery, Lustine’s fitness center offers a variety of cardio equipment and workout machines with an accompanying full-service juice bar for members.
Prior to what it is now, The Lustine Center was a premier Chevrolet and Oldsmobile showroom during the 1920’s and 30’s when automobile consumerism first became glamorized in the U.S. It was one of the few showrooms in the Mid-Atlantic region which had a unique architectural design with its huge glass windows that attracted many who passed by.
The owner, Philip Lustine, opened the dealership in 1926 as the ‘Lustine-Nicholson Motor Company’ and it became Chevrolet’s top performing franchise in a decade with an annual revenue of $2.5 million—a major deal during that era.
“You get that vintage-y vibe of the place outside while hustling artists show their work inside,” said White. “It’s like an ‘old money’ turned into ‘new money’ kinda thing,” he said.
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