Christian Scientists' Newspaper Box Must Make Way For Historic Standards

October 06, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Any day now, the newspaper box containing the Christian Science Monitor will be carted away from the porch outside the Christian Science reading room in Ellicott City, painted a "standard industry gray," and repositioned outside the post office a block away.

Unless you'relooking for it, you probably wouldn't notice the box. It is partially hidden by a slatted railing that surrounds the porch of the Main Street duplex.

But once you've seen it, you can't help noticing it -- at least that's the position of the county Historic District Commission, which voted, 4 to 3, last month to deny the request of the First Church of Christ Scientist in Catonsville to keep the box on the porch.

"To permit a newspaper box on the front porch of this site or any other front porch in Ellicott City would not be in keeping with the style offixtures that would have been on front porches in the past," the commission argued.

Martha Weingarten, representing the Catonsville church, acknowledged as much in her request to the commission. She did not talk about the anachronistic appearance of the box on the porch, but spoke instead about the need that reading room patrons have for it. It is not an eyesore, does not block traffic, and to remove it would pose a problem, she told commission members.

The one-time residential duplex, attractively set off by azaleas and a brick walkway leading to the porch, now houses professional offices and the reading room. It seems strangely out of place on the block.

Three doors away, eight neon signs dominate the window of an art deco building wherethe wall is marked by peeling brick. Next door at a print shop, manyof the windows are painted with advertising.

Across the street sits a boarded-up, vacant building. On the corner, a mannequin in a wedding dress is sometimes placed on the sidewalk in front of a bridal shop.

Three of the seven commission members wanted to make an exception for the church.

Mary Ann Gardes said that she did not believethe box was "in the way" and that its proximity to the reading room was a special case and deserved special consideration.

Commissioner Cheryl McAfee disagreed, saying that if the exception were granted,there would be nothing to prevent other religious groups on Main Street from putting their religious material in boxes.

The commission's attorney suggested the church might consider a "smaller, less obtrusive box" for its newspapers.

McAfee said the issue was not size,but styling. She said she would continue to have problems with a boxthat would not have belonged on a residential front porch.

Peoplewho never noticed the box in the first place might not notice that it's gone, McAfee said, "but they will notice that something looks nicer about the place."

A majority of the commission agreed, and the request to keep the box on the porch was denied.

Weingarten was philosophical about the decision.

"We are proud of the Main Street (historic) designation and grateful for the support from members of the commission," she said. "We have no sour grapes. Calling attention to the Monitor and getting the box repainted may help our sales."

McAfee agrees. "They will get better visibility by being placed with the other boxes and will be able to use three locations, if they choose, instead of just one," she said.

Weingarten expects the box to be picked up, painted and moved to the post office any day now. Until then, it remains on the porch. A hand-lettered cardboard sign alerts potential purchasers that the box is empty, telling them they may seea copy of the newspaper inside the reading room.

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