League completes renovation Historic church now headquarters BALTIMORE CITY

November 06, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The stained-glass windows have been replaced, the leaky roof has been rebuilt, and all signs of fire damage and vandalism are gone.

After 17 years of neglect, the Orchard Street Church officially reopens today following its $3.7 million conversion to a new headquarters for the Baltimore Urban League.

League directors have scheduled three days of festivities to mark the reopening of the 1882 church at 510 Orchard St. and an adjacent Sunday school that dates from 1903.

"We feel it's important that everybody in the community have an opportunity to see this restoration," said Urban League President Roger Lyons. "We've gone from being a dream to being a reality, and we want everybody to experience the emotional, spiritual feeling that comes from seeing how this building has been transformed."

"It's a space that words cannot describe," said Vernon Locklear, development executive for the Urban League. "You have to see it to appreciate it.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the church is actually the third to occupy the site. The first one was built more than 150 years ago by slaves and freed slaves and was one of the first African Methodist Episcopal churches in Baltimore. The current one was designed by Frank Davis in a style that is considered to be a Victorian version of an Italian Renaissance church.

The 68-year-old social services organization bought the church from the city for $1 in 1989 and started restoration in January. In late October, it moved most of its operations from Mondawmin Mall to the former Sunday school building facing Martin Luther King Boulevard.

In a second phase of construction, the Baltimore Urban League plans to create an African-American cultural museum inside the restored church sanctuary, a project that will take another year to complete.

Part of the National Urban League's network of 113 service organizations, the Baltimore Urban League's activities include job training, job placement, consumer services, a youth service bureau, AIDS education, teen-age pregnancy programs and a literacy center.

Its manpower center and certain youth programs will remain at Mondawmin Mall, and it also maintains a satellite office at 322 N. Eutaw St.

Directors say the restored church is a fitting headquarters because the church's original function involved reaching out to the community, and that's what the Urban League does, too. The prominent location off Martin Luther King Boulevard, they say, also gives the organization much more visibility than it had before.

"We think that moving to Orchard Street will put us in a better position to serve the community because we've been in the basement of Mondawmin Mall," Mr. Locklear said. "We're telling everybody we're coming up from underground."

More than 300 people have purchased tickets to a $50-a-head gala fund-raiser that will kick off the league's "Breaking New Ground" weekend of events. It will begin today immediately after a 5:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and National Urban League President John Jacobs are expected to preside.

xTC Also scheduled this weekend are a community street festival in front of the church and at nearby St. Mary's Park, tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a dedication ceremony Sunday at 4 p.m.

In honor of the restoration, Mr. Lyons asked Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to add the church and Sunday school to the city's landmark list.

The preservation panelists voted unanimously last week to initiate the landmark designation process.

The Baltimore Urban League sought the designation because its directors are proud of the building's history, Mr. Locklear said.

"It's already a national landmark, and it's only natural that it be a Baltimore landmark, too," he said.

WEEKEND EVENTS

* Today: Black-tie fund-raiser, 6 p.m., admission $50 each.

* Tomorrow: Community street festival at St. Mary's Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a performance of God's Trombone by the Arena Players at 4 p.m.

* Sunday: Dedication ceremony in the former sanctuary, 4 p.m.

* Where: 510 Orchard St., Baltimore.

* Information: Baltimore Urban League, 523-8150.

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