City's past etched in architecture

Jacques Kelly

August 19, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

Walk around Baltimore long enough and you'll see the city's history written in stone, brick and bronze. Here are some unsung tributes left by artists over the decades:

The former parcel post building, now a Housing Authority truck depot, has a fine limestone 1930s airplane flying atop its St. Paul Street side. It faces Pennsylvania Station.

It takes some looking, but there's a horse's head popping out of the wall on the old Hegira Dairy, now the Sanitary Laundry, in the 2800 block of Sisson St., just off the Jones Falls Expressway. This equine memorial is a reminder of the power used to haul the milk wagons.

There's a stone cornucopia filled with the fruits of the season on chimney at the Madison Street side of the Graham-Hughes House, Charles and Madison.

The 200 block of E. Lexington St. has a pair of projecting granite heads. The Beehive Restaurant has a lusty satyr. The Knickerbocker Building, at the corner of Guilford Avenue and East Saratoga Street, has a dog that looks like a bull. Or is it a bull that looks like a dog?

There are beehives, as well as bronze crabs, owls, eagles and shells all over the Maryland National Bank Building at Light and Baltimore streets. The interior is a lesson in local history and commerce. The mosaic floor has a full steam locomotive and cars in one panel and the other has a 1929 view of the Baltimore harbor, complete with freighters. The stone work around the entrance thresholds depicts the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. There are many local references in this magnificent piece of design.

Downtown's other great display of metalwork is on the former Hutzler Brothers Building at Howard and Clay streets. There are terrapins, crabs, oysters, wheat, corn, books and an anvil, and an anchor.

The Hansa Haus, at the northeast corner of Charles and Redwood streets, was until recently a W. Bell & Co. store. It was built just before the outbreak of World War I by the North German Lloyd Steamship Co. At the peak of its roof, on the Charles Street side, there is a fine sailing ship made of tile. The tile work was created by Henry C. Mercer's Moravian Pottery and Tile Co. in Doylestown, Pa.

Great old legitimate theaters traditionally used the masks of comedy and tragedy. Baltimore has at least three sets of them. On the old Mayfair, built as James Kernan's Auditorium; the Town, built as the Empire, in the 300 block of W. Fayette St.; and the Gayety, in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St. The Gayety's faces have the most flair. And this summer, its joyous, bravura facade is being cleaned.

The old Lord Baltimore Hotel at 20 W. Baltimore St. has stone medallions of the Calvert family members and a number to Maryland Indian tribes. Another Maryland reference is atop the School for the Arts ballroom, the old Alcazar, on Cathedral Street. The relief panel appears to be the landing of the Maryland colonists, with the Jesuit priest, Fr. Andrew White.

The Central Enoch Pratt Free Library's children's department entrance (Mulberry Street) is topped by a metalwork Norse ship in full sail.

There are many local religious buildings with fine references. Old St. Paul's Church, Charles and Saratoga, has a large exterior plaque of Saul himself. The Christmas tower of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Cathedral and Read, tells the nativity story in stone. And the baptistry of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St., has the christening waters worked into stone ripples.

The carved pediment of St. Mary's Seminary, Roland Park, takes its cue from the New Testament command to "Go teach all nations."

Local schools have some delightful touches. The old Frederick Douglass High School, Baker and Calhoun streets, is now an apartment house. But stone medieval scholars are carved into its entrance. On back entrance to Johns Hopkins University, Homewood, is some delightful iron work topping a pair of stone pillars. An artisan has carefully placed a pair of lacrosse sticks into his creation. The entrance is on St. Martin Drive, south of University Parkway.

Loyola High School, Blakefield, between Ruxton and Towson, has a pair of facing scholars. One looks through a microscope; the other reads a book. Appropriate, for this 1934 building houses the science labs and the library. At the peak of the slate roof is an excellent stone owl which looks through the trees toward Charles Street.

But perhaps the best stone memorial of all is worked into the Falls Road stone of City College. The architects, Riggin Buckler and George Corner Fenhagen, are rendered in the masonry. But there's also the City College mascot, the monkey. He's devouring the Poly parrot.

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