Cancer center will displace elegant 1913 buildingWhile...


November 19, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Cancer center will displace elegant 1913 building

While making plans to step into the 21st century by building a state-of-the-art cancer center, leaders of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions are simultaneously discarding a pioneering building of the 20th century.

The Frank M. Houck Building, near the Wolfe Street entrance to the Hopkins complex, occupies the site selected for the proposed $120 million Comprehensive Cancer Center. Hopkins officials plan to tear down the handsome brick structure to make way for the replacement facility, which has been described as a "cancer center for the 21st century."

Many know the existing building as the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, the name it bore from its opening in 1913 until 1982. It was one of the nation's earliest psychiatric clinics and the first to be constructed as part of a larger medical complex but has never received official landmark status.

Converted to office and classroom space after Hopkins' psychiatric department moved to a more advanced facility in 1982, the five-story building lends a humanizing presence to a medical campus in which the average building height has grown from four stories to eight or more.

Members of Baltimore Heritage Inc., a preservation advocacy group, have voiced concern about the pending demolition and recently featured the former Phipps Clinic on a poster of "vanishing" landmarks. But they concede the demolition probably can't be stopped, given the clout Hopkins wields.

"There's no real constituency for this building other than Hopkins," said local architect and preservationist David Gleason. And they seem to have their minds made up. I don't have much hope of saving it."

Designed in an Edwardian style by Grosvenor Atterbury, the Phipps building reflected a new approach to treating disorders of the mind -- a shift away from the 19th century insane asylum toward a more humane environment. Among the advances introduced were group therapy and new drugs to treat certain syndromes.

Hopkins, which opened in 1889, did not have a psychiatric building for its first 24 years, even though its superintendent from 1899 to 1911 was a psychiatrist named Henry M. Hurd. Administrators began planning a psychiatric clinic after Henry Phipps, a Pittsburgh iron magnate, offered to endow one.

The idea of combining a psychiatric clinic with other medical facilities had strong backing from the clinic's first director, Adolph Meyer, who believed mental disorders were caused by biological factors. Spacious roof gardens, wide corridors and naturally lighted wards were all part of the plan to create a building that could aid in the healing process.

"It is impossible to describe how modern, beautiful and commodious the Phipps Clinic was considered in 1914," Augusta Tucker wrote in her 1960 book, "It Happened At Hopkins, A Teaching Hospital."

Two other parcels received serious consideration as the site for the cancer center, said Dr. James A. Block, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. But he said the former Phipps Clinic turned out to be the "only viable alternative" because it provided the ability to make critical connections to other inpatient facilities.

"Taking care of cancer patients in the best possible way must take precedence over our affection for a lovely Hopkins building," he said.

Dr. Block noted, however, that Hopkins has a master plan that calls for retention of three other historic buildings on the East Baltimore campus -- the Wilmer building, the Marburg Building and the domed Billings building, all facing Broadway.

The Maryland Historical Trust has requested information from Hopkins to determine whether the former clinic is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

But even if so, said preservation officer Lauren Bowlin, demolition may be permitted after Hopkins documents the building, salvages artifacts, and lets state officials review plans for its replacement.

Another addition to the Hopkins complex debuts this weekend when Children's House, a temporary residence for families of children receiving medical treatment there, holds its grand opening Sunday at 1 p.m.

A project of the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, the four-story building has become a national symbol of volunteerism. Of the $2.1 million project cost, labor and materials worth more than $1.4 million were donated.

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