Camden Station getting a crown

Jacques Kelly

February 24, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Camden Station's new top hat goes on this week.

Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on downtown Baltimore's landmark rail terminal, which sits on Camden Street alongside the new baseball stadium. By the end of the week, the old terminal should resemble the way it looked in the era of Abraham Lincoln.

A crane will lift a tiered, wedding-cake-style clock tower atop the station. With its columns and fancy victorian brackets, the new headpiece should make a loud statement, one that will call needed attention to an overlooked piece of local history.

The fancy tower is all new, built of aluminum and steel. It was designed by Cho Wilks Benn Architects, who consulted old photographs to come up with the design.

The original tower, built in the 1850s, was largely wood. It was heavy and proved unstable in high winds. And since the tower had no function other than to look pretty, it was expendable. It was first trimmed, then removed entirely.

Most Baltimoreans cannot recall when Camden Station was ever so elegantly attired as it is today. If you're skeptical, wait until the tower is lighted at night.

The station's major face lift involved much architectural plastic surgery. Large sections of its wooden Italianate cornice, window frames and lintels had to be reproduced. Some 135 years of wind and rain, freezing and thawing, produced considerable rot.

"The woodwork is being replicated verbatim," said architect George Holback.

The task of making these complicated decorations fell to Baycraft Fiberglass Engineering, a Havre de Grace firm that specializes in architectural restoration.

"We've tried to make Camden a real showcase of our work," said Jerry Davis, president of Baycraft. His firm's "FRP" (fiber reinforced plastic) is used for making life-size figures at Disney World and Universal Studios.

The aluminum-clad clock tower, as well as a pair of smaller side cupolas, are the work of "The Steeple People," a company that trades as Campbellsville (Ky.) Industries. The tower was made in Kentucky, shipped here via truck and reassembled on Camden Street. The main tower should be lifted in place tomorrow and Wednesday.

Some features of the 1850s were not reproduced. The Maryland Stadium Authority ruled out the building's original color scheme. In the 1850s and 1860s, the station's exterior brick walls were painted a reddish light brown. The wood trim was painted a contrasting dark brown.

To make the station a part of the entire Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Camden Yards project, the station's brick walls are natural, matching the stadium and its companion warehouse. The station's windows and trim are cream colored. Some areas are trimmed in green.

Most people don't realize that commuter passenger trains still call at Camden Station, although its platform no longer connects to the main station house. The new Central Light Rail Line also runs by the station's eastern flank. There are large platforms to accommodate daily rail commuters and the anticipated ballpark crowds.

But, alas, Camden Station itself will not function as a rail terminal. There's been discussion of making its old waiting room and offices part of a medical technology mart.

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