Mount Vernon bank branch proposed

January 04, 1991|By Edward Gunts

In what may be a harbinger of Baltimore real estate development in the Nervous '90s, the owner of a prime midtown parcel on Charles Street is seeking city approval to redevelop it -- with a one-story building.

Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. wants city permission to build a one-story bank branch at the northwest corner of Charles and Chase streets in Mount Vernon to replace its current bank branch in the Monumental Corp. building at the same intersection.

Designed by Hord Coplan Macht Inc., the project is the first private real estate development proposed for the Charles Street corridor since the real estate market weakened last year.

It marks a firm commitment to the Mount Vernon area by Mercantile, whose lease on the Monumental building at 1111 N. Charles St. expires Dec. 31, 1992 and is not being renewed.

At the same time, the parking lot on which the new branch would be built is one of the few parcels in the Mount Vernon historic district that city planners have identified as an acceptable site for mid-rise or even high-rise development. Other buildings in the immediate area range from three to 13 stories.

For a site at 925 N. Charles St., a local development team has proposed a five-story office building but has been unable to obtain the financing to begin construction.

Preliminary plans for the bank branch are scheduled for review within the next month by the city's Design Advisory Panel and Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation.

Robert Quilter, an architect for the city housing department and coordinator of the Design Advisory Panel, said he initially was disappointed to hear that Mercantile officials had proposed only a one-story building on such a potentially valuable parcel.

But he said the preliminary plans are intriguing in that they call for a structure that would rise 35 to 40 feet -- closer in height to most four-story buildings -- with details that are reminiscent of the small-town banks designed just after World War I by the noted architect Louis Sullivan.

"It's a noble effort to do a one-story building," he said. "It really takes its cues from Louis Sullivan. . . . It would be a major banking hall."

At the same time, he said, city officials will be questioning whether, by permitting construction of a one-story building this year, they might be pre-empting construction of a five-to-10-story building on the same site when the economy gets stronger.

Architect Edward Hord of Hord Coplan Macht said his office is designing the building to have a large banking room with a ceiling 30 feet high and a masonry or precast stone exterior that would serve as a counterpoint to some of the area landmarks, including the Belvedere Hotel.

The project is a sign of growth for AEGON USA Inc., the financial-services holding company that acquired Monumental bTC Life Insurance Co. and Monumental General Insurance Co. in 1986 and established its own headquarters in the Monumental building in 1989.

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