Howard House Hotel Slated For Restoration Restoration Seeks To Bring Back Elegance That Surrounded Structure Early In Century

October 28, 1990|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

The elegant 19th-century building, located on Main Street, Ellicott City, in the heart of the historic district, had its heyday for about 30 years at the turn of the century.

But for most of its 150-year history, it's been pretty tough going for the old place.

Now, the 14-room hotel is being painstakingly renovated by Ellicott City attorney Robert C. Brown, and from all accounts, may soon be restored to its original grandeur as 10 "luxury" rental apartments.

The Historic Howard House, built in 1840, had already gone through a half-dozen owners by the time Christian Eckert bought it in 1880.

Until then, the 14-room hotel had been struggling to survive, always playing second fiddle to the more popular Patapsco Hotel down the street.

"The Patapsco Hotel was right across the street from the railroad tracks," said Alice Anne Wetzel, a historic preservation planner for the county. "People didn't want to walk all the way up the hill to the Howard House."

But things started changing after the Eckerts took over. The hotel became a popular meeting place for salesmen and fashionable ladies and gentlemen after 1880.

The first floor cafe and bar room were tremendously popular, said Wetzel. Men and women would take the train from Baltimore to "escape from the heat and noise of the city," old news reports said.

Doris S. Thompson, president of the county's Historical Society, said the hotel featured fine German cooking and was the first place in the old mill town to offer ice cream -- which was made on Wednesdays only and was a real draw.

But that was during its heyday, and heydays don't last forever.

The hotel changed ownership numerous times after Eckert sold it and was eventually subdivided into apartments. Its fortunes slipped further during World War II, when the second floor of the two-story wrought-iron porch was sold for scrap metal for the war effort, said Thompson.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the building suffered a "gradual decline," until it eventually developed a reputation as one of the biggest eyesores in town, said Thompson.

But now, under Brown's watchful eye, things are looking up again for the Howard House.

Work had already been going on for about two years by the time Ron Stevenson, owner of REI General Contractors, was hired earlier this month to oversee the restoration.

Brown and Stevenson estimate the project will be completed sometime between the end of the year and next spring.

Thompson said she is "absolutely delighted" with Brown's plans for the place. "Bob Brown is the best thing that has ever happened to that building. I am so delighted he bought it."

Brown, a resident of Columbia, intends to keep the apartments as rental units. What will make them "luxury" is the quality of the restoration, which includes panel doors, moldings and much of the original woodwork, said Brown, and the fact that tenants are occupying an historic building.

The apartments, which will range from 700 to 1,000 square feet, will also feature new plumbing, heating systems and kitchens.

He would not specify how much the apartments will rent for, but stated they would be comparable to other luxury apartments in surrounding areas.

One- and two-bedroom apartments at the high end of the scale in Columbia rent for $800 to $1,000 a month.

Brown thinks he will have no problem renting the 10 apartments.

"I definitely think there's a niche for it," he said.

Stevenson, who has completed 14 other projects in historic Ellicott City, said restoring properties on Main Street, Ellicott City, has become such a popular pursuit, he expects his company will be kept busy for years to come.

"We usually have two or three of these projects going at once," he said.

REI recently completed the restoration of a residential house on the western end of Main Street, which houses the new and very popular Tersiguels French restaurant, which opened Oct. 17.

Other projects REI has completed include Kids At Heart, the Nature Nook, the Straw Bridge Herb Shop and Santa Fe Way.

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