Hopkins seeks conversion approval

November 06, 1991|By Edward Gunts

A row of vacant and dilapidated town houses overlooking Mount Vernon Place would be converted to a specialized hostel for visitors to Baltimore, if trustees of the Johns Hopkins University and city officials approve the project.

Baltimore's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation is scheduled to review plans Friday for a $2.5 million renovation of the town houses at 601 to 607 N. Charles St. The four-story buildings, which date from the 1850s, would be converted to housing for visitors enrolled in the "Elderhostel" program, a nationwide network that enables senior citizens to travel nationwide and take courses during intensive, one-week visits.

In Baltimore, the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon has hosted Elderhostel visitors for the past decade, and its music-related courses have been very popular. The visitors have been housed several blocks from Peabody in the Comfort Inn at Franklin and Cathedral streets.

The Johns Hopkins University and its affiliate, Peabody, have been looking for some time to find a use that will help pay for the renovation of the historic town houses, which have been vacant since 1982 and are in an advanced state of deterioration, according to Robert Schuerholz, executive director for facilities management at Hopkins.

The conversion would put the Elderhostel participants closer to the classrooms and dining facilities they use at Peabody, while the fees they pay would cover the cost of renovations, Mr. Schuerholz explained.

"We think this is the best solution for those buildings," he said. "It would add to that part of town, and it would be an ideal location for the Elderhostel enrollees. I'm very excited about it."

Plans by the architectural firm of Murphy & Dittenhafer call for the renovated town houses to contain 96 guest beds, including 45 double apartments for Elderhostel participants and 6 single apartments for visiting faculty. There also would be several meeting rooms for the visitors, who come to Baltimore 44 weeks a year, Mr. Schuerholz said.

"Baltimore has the second most popular Elderhostel program in the United States," said architect Michael Murphy. "This is a positive economic move for Peabody because this use will pay for itself, and it will help save some important buildings on Mount Vernon Place."

According to CHAP representatives, the architects' plans call for the demolition of two rear town house additions, which date from the 1880s and 1890s. Since the buildings fall within the Mount Vernon historic district, any demolition plans must be approved by CHAP before the project can move ahead.

If CHAP approves the plans, they would be submitted to the Hopkins trustees for their approval next week, Mr. Schuerholz said. Hopkins would like to begin renovation work in early 1992 and complete the project by the beginning of 1993.

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