Fine old Odorite Building is no junker

Jacques Kelly

September 20, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

Let's hope that reason will prevail and a way will be found to preserve the Odorite Building at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues.

This home of bug juice, mops and cleaning pails now finds itself a component in a grand plan to provide the University of Baltimore with a new building for its business school. Once the janitorial supply house moves out, the 75-year-old building could be razed and forgotten.

But the Maryland Historic Trust, the state's preservation agency, has issued a protest. Trust officials say the Odorite Building deserves saving and should be worked into an acceptable expansion plan for the University of Baltimore.

The state's preservation agency was especially annoyed at an initial plan to level Odorite and put a VIP parking lot on the corner for business executives who might be participating in business school programs.

The fine Odorite structure began 75 years ago as a fancy automobile dealership. I often thought the building had more in common with a Roland Park or Guilford mansion than it did with a mere auto garage or showroom for paper towels.

Imagine its broad, plate-glass windows filled with Oaklands or Packards or LaSalles. The motor cars were displayed on the same polished clay tile floor that remains today. A broad staircase leads to second-floor offices lined with casement windows, where auto customers transacted their business.

In the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, Mount Royal Avenue was Baltimore's premier address for Detroit's finest products. The Zell Motor Car Co., today a law office, stood to the east of Charles Street. Kelly Buick, now happily renovated as a University of Baltimore academic building, served customers at the northwest corner of Charles and Mount Royal.

The Neill Buick, City Chevrolet, Fleigh, Lambert and Weiss auto agencies lined the street in solid buildings that one by one have been knocked off. The AAA -- Automobile Club of Maryland -- had its own distinguished structure at Cathedral Street and Mount Royal. The delicate and well-proportioned AAA structure was demolished after the club moved up the street.

Today, this section of Mount Royal Avenue is solidly in the hands of the University of Baltimore and its thousands of commuting students. However, some 20 years ago, the school recycled the old Kelly Buick garage for classrooms and offices. The result is much more pleasing than some of the very ordinary examples of new construction that have risen on this urban campus.

So too the Maryland Institute College of Art's reuse of the old Mount Royal train station, another early 1960s adaptive reuse of a prized Baltimore landmark. More recently, the old Hotel Mount Royal and Saint Paul apartment house were recycled as the International House apartments. This was a major transformation of an ugly duckling. The success made you think that Mount Royal Avenue might indeed stage a successful return.

Historians will mark the 20th century as the time when the automobile came into its own and changed the world. Yet, we've leveled much of the city's early auto history. Earlier this year, the Goodyear tire shop at Mount Royal Avenue and Oliver Street fell because the state's Central Light-Rail Line is coming through.

The large stucco tire shop also had an earlier use as a house for automobiles of the running-board era. For a building that never made it into any local histories, it's now missed. The corner looks naked without it.

And already I miss the great old Firestone building at Howard and 20th, which seemed to disappear all too suddenly. It was a 1920s classic as well. The city has vague plans to put a shopping center at this site.

It's not too much to imagine the Odorite Building restored and incorporated into a larger structure as part of a master plan for the entire block. It could become the Cadillac of the University of Baltimore's Mount Royal campus.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.