Schaefer saves Mount Vernon building from wrecker

December 14, 1990|By Edward Gunts

The Odorite building, a two-story structure that the University of Baltimore's president wanted to raze to make way for a parking lot, will be saved from the wrecker's ball at the insistence of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"A decision has been made that the building will remain. The governor pre-empted the whole thing," said Joseph Harrison, public-information officer for the state Department of General Services.

Built in 1915-16 at the southeast corner of Maryland and Mount Royal avenues as a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co., the Elizabethan-Tudor style building is part of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere historic district.

It was designed by Wilson Smith and Howard May, two architects of the Maryland National Bank tower at 10 Light St.

The building's most recent occupant was a pesticide and janitorial-supply company called Odorite Corp., whose owner renovated it in the late 1970s and painted it in a two-tone color scheme that made it something of a landmark for what he once called "Mount Vermin."

The University of Baltimore acquired the building for future expansion last year, and the former owner moved his business out this fall.

In September, H. Mebane Turner, the university's president, disclosed plans to demolish the Odorite building and two smaller structures on the same block to create a 25-car VIP parking lot for the $22 million Robert G. Merrick School of Business, which is planned for the southwest corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue.

The demolition plan drew opposition from a variety of community and civic groups, including the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association and the Mount Royal Improvement Association, whose boards both voted to support retention of the building.

Support for retention also has come from City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and HTC Architectural Preservation, the city housing department's Design Advisory Panel, the Maryland Historic Trust and Baltimore Heritage.

According to state employees, Mr. Schaefer expressed his position during a budget meeting earlier this month.

"The governor is clearly not interested in entertaining any demolition plans," said spokesman Paul Schurick.

"The governor felt that the building has become something of an institution in the Mount Vernon neighborhood and that it would complement the business school," Mr. Harrison said.

As a result, the state has "no plans to demolish the building," said William Puhl, a project manager for the Department of General Services. University administrators recently toured the building and are "befuddled" as to what do with it, he said.

Dr. Turner said he is aware of the governor's stance and is willing to follow his direction. He added that his main concern was to obtain funding for construction of the business school and that he did not want to do anything to jeopardize that project.

Baltimore's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation will hold a public hearing on the Odorite building today at 1:45 p.m. in the third-floor conference room of the municipal building at 417 E. Fayette St.

Deborah Goodman, chairman of the commission, said she is glad to hear the building will be preserved and that she thinks it would be an ideal student union for the campus.

Richard Watson, board member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association, said he was pleased with the decision and hopes to see the building put to good use by the university.

"Because it is so open to the street with its large windows, it's a wonderful place where the university could come together with the community," he said. "It could be anything from a German beer garden to a bookstore that could have citywide use."

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