One Charles Center to be renovated after 30 years

PRESERVING A PIECE OF HISTORY

October 29, 1992|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

Call it a splurge to look young again as age 30 arrives. Call it an investment in keeping Baltimore's downtown renaissance vital. And, in the case of One Charles Center -- the landmark building that kick-started Baltimore's commercial resurgence when it opened in 1962 -- call the building's newly announced renovation a recession-induced necessity.

"What we're looking at is a major repositioning effort," said Christopher T. Mundy, a Washington-based regional director of leasing for First Office Management, which represents the building's owner. "Fortunately, it's a well-designed building. It almost looks like a new building, but it hasn't gotten the attention."

One Charles Center is an undisputed piece of Baltimore history, still fresh enough that last week it won the "25 Year Award" from the American Institute of Architects, Baltimore chapter, which honored it as an older building that has stood the test of time.

But the renovation is being done in order to stave off the risk of a glutted market of newer buildings turning the landmark at 100 N. Charles St. into yesterday's news.

The renovation over the next four to six months will be focused on overhauling the public areas of the building, said J. Joseph Casey, president of Casey & Associates, which has the brokerage listing for the building.

The lobby will get a new limestone floor, new furniture influenced by the ideas of the world-famous architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was lead designer on the building, and its marble walls will be refinished. Upstairs, the lobbies on individual floors will be upgraded, as will the bathrooms.

"The thing to do is to freshen the building and bring it up toMies' idea," Mr. Casey said.

One Charles Center was more than just well designed when it opened in 1962.

It was the city's first office building in the Charles Center urban renewal zone. Other than the building Commercial Credit Corp. had built mostly for itself in the mid-1950s, it was the first office building built in the city in 30 years, and it was built against a backdrop of suburban flight and urban decline.

"It was the birthplace of the renaissance of Baltimore," said Andrew J.A. Chriss, a broker at Manekin Corp.'s downtown office.

The competition for who would get the city's nod to develop the first Charles Center urban renewal site was fierce. The Blaustein family, which controlled American Trading and Production Corp. (ATAPCO) then and now, wanted to make its real estate development debut by developing that site.

But the contract went to a Chicago developer who had hired the renowned Mr. Mies to design the building that became One Charles Center. A leader of the Modernist and International style schools of architecture, Mr. Mies was fresh from the triumphant opening of the Seagram building in New York, which he had designed along with Philip Johnson.

The Seagram Building had opened in 1958 to critical acclaim, and the design for One Charles Center is a smaller, 22-story unmistakable knockoff of the 38-story Seagram building.

But the Blausteins didn't cotton to coming in second. Instead, they began building a building of their own, now known as the Blaustein Building at 1 N. Charles St.

"It was a very controversial thing at the time," said Michael McCarthy, director of the Baltimore History Project at the University of Baltimore. "Their buildings went up almost floor by floor together, and [officials feared] there weren't enough available tenants to fill up both office centers."

But just as people worried that there weren't enough tenants for One Charles Center and the Blaustein Building to share 30 years ago,One Charles Center will have stiff competition again after its renovation.

The building's current tenant, CSX Corp., is moving out of 100,000 square feet of office space in the 300,000-square-foot building. This is happening as the city's Class A office vacancy rate prepares to climb over 20 percent when the nearly finished Commerce Place tower officially opens at Redwood and South streets.

Perhaps toughest of all, the center of the city's prestige belt for office locations has shifted over the past 30 years. The hot places are now buildings closer to the Inner Harbor.

"The building was a landmark from a design perspective," said Mr. Chriss. "I don't know what kind of competition it will be. It's additional space coming onto a market that doesn't need additional space."

Mr. Casey thinks the building can overcome the glut.

"We haven't really started our marketing, and we're showing the building three or four times a week," he said. "The building throughout its entire history has been one success story after another."

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