Episcopal diocese's Tiffany windows put up for auction

March 14, 1991|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

A shortage of money has forced the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland to sell a group of Tiffany stained-glass windows removed from its vacated brownstone headquarters at 105 W. Monument St.

Diocesan financial advisers said yesterday that they hoped to raise $230,000 from the sale of the windows at an auction scheduled Saturday in New York. The proceeds will be applied to the church's Cross-Roads fund-raising campaign, which has fallen roughly $2 million behind its goal. The objective is to raise a little more than $9 million by the end of this year for a variety of purposes, including the recently completed building of a diocesan headquarters in North Baltimore.

Because of the campaign shortfall, the diocese took out a loan last year to cover a large part of the $4.13 million construction cost of the new offices at Charles Street and University Parkway, adjacent to the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

One of the reasons for this borrowing, Episcopal officials explained, has been the failure to sell the vacant four-story Monument Street property, known as the Diocesan House since its purchase by the church in 1936 for $22,500.

It was put on the market in December 1989 for $1.25 million. The asking price has since been reduced to $975,000, according to Bernard H. Dabrowski of W. H. C. Wilson & Co. Realtors, who said yesterday he was "very optimistic" that it would be sold soon.

The windows from the Tiffany Studios were installed in the brownstone mansion by a previous owner, Waldo Newcomer, shortly after 1902. They are part of a sale of "Important 20th Century Decorative Arts" scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Christie's auction gallery in New York.

Susan Britman, a representative of Christie's, said the windows probably would be withheld from sale if the auction does not bring an estimated minimum price of $160,000 for them.

The items are in two lots: a large leaded glass ceiling -- or skylight -- recently removed from the Mount Vernon area landmark and a set of three panels that were once part of a large window on its ornate central stairway landing.

W. H. Holden Gibbs, treasurer of the Maryland diocese, said the three stained-glass panels, each 79 inches high, had been in storage within the Diocesan House for a number of years. He said there were no plans to remove any more of the building's interior decorative arts, such as its wood paneling and marble mantelpieces.

Mr. Dabrowski said it was expected that a prospective buyer for the old house would value its interior and exterior architectural details. The brownstone exterior is protected by a city preservation law because the building is within the Mount Vernon Historic District.

Fred B. Shoken, president of Baltimore Heritage, a local historical and architectural preservation organization, said he was sorry that the Episcopal Diocese found it necessary to remove the Tiffany windows and offer them for sale separately from the house. Even though the Monument Street interior is not protected by a city ordinance, "it's a bad precedent to take out integral parts of a building like this," he said.

Assuming that the old Diocesan House and the Tiffany windows are sold for sums approximating their estimated value and all pledges to Cross-Roads are paid, the church will need to find only about $750,000 more in gifts to realize its current campaign objective, said James S. Ridenour, the diocese's fund-raising consultant.

He said it would make sense to apply the proceeds from the New York sale of the windows Saturday to retiring the church's loan because of the high cost of the financing.

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