Exhibit planned for Camden Station Baseball museum to open temporarily URBAN LANDSCAPE

November 26, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Visitors to Baltimore's baseball stadium will finally get to see the inside of the building that gave Oriole Park at Camden Yards its name.

The Italianate exterior of Camden Station, the historic train depot, was restored just in time for the ballpark's opening last spring. But because reconstruction of the interior was deferred, visitors have not been allowed to enter the building or even look through the windows.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns the building, has agreed to allow the Orioles and other representatives of major league baseball to use the main waiting room from January until October in connection with the All-Star Game that will be played in Baltimore next July 13.

"It'll be nice to have something going on in there again, because everyone who goes by is really perplexed about what's inside. Until now, it's been the building with the blacked-out windows," said architect George Holback, of Cho, Wilks & Benn.

Inside the old station will be an "interactive baseball museum" and visitors orientation center. A key component of the 4,000-square-foot attraction will be an exhibit promoting the All-Star Game. It will also serve as a preview for FanFest, a baseball theme park that is set up in the city that hosts the game.

FanFest will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall during the week leading up to the 64th annual All-Star Game. Now in its third year, it will have more than two dozen attractions, including the largest Hall of Fame exhibit outside Cooperstown, N.Y., free autographs from baseball greats, and bat- and glove-making demonstrations. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend.

Janet Marie Smith, vice president of stadium planning and development for the Orioles, said the ballclub approached the state about using Camden Station and will spend close to $100,000 to prepare it for a Jan. 30 opening.

"The intent is, first, to introduce Marylanders to FanFest, and second, to add more life to downtown Baltimore," she said. "We plan to keep it open every day of the season."

The Orioles hired Cho, Wilks & Benn, the architects responsible for the station's $2.2 million exterior restoration, to design the interior exhibit space. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is the general contractor.

The stadium authority has allocated $42,000 to remove lead paint from the train station's interior. That work began earlier this month.

The waiting room will house exhibits on loan from Cooperstown, a "Hometown Heroes" exhibit, and a Babe Ruth display. It will offer a sampling of FanFest attractions, including video batting cages, radar pitching booths and a baseball trading card show.

Besides promoting the All-Star Game, the free exhibit will call new attention to the train station and its potential for reuse.

"We're trying to keep the waiting room as intact as we can," said Mr. Holback. "We want to get the lights working again and repair some of the water-damaged plaster. It's the first step in trying to get the building back to the way it was, but it is by no means a full-blown restoration."

Completed in 1865, Camden Station was the nation's largest train station. Along with President Street Station, it was one of the points where Union soldiers in 1861 were attacked by Confederate sympathizers, resulting in the first combat casualties of the Civil War.

Designed by former B&O engineers John Randolph Niernsee and J. Crawford Neilson, the depot last served train passengers in the mid-1980s. Its exterior has been restored, down to the recreation of a 185-foot-tall clock tower in the center.

The sports exhibit is temporary because the stadium authority tentatively gave permission to recycle the interior to a development team that wants to build a $600 million medical trade mart nearby.

Headed by Richard Swirnow, the team is still fleshing out its plan. The group won't be ready to begin construction until late next year, according to Bruce Hoffman, the authority's executive director.

The authority saw no harm in the interim use, he said. "Putting the building back in service is No. 1 on our priority list," he said.

School to be a chefs' center

The Baltimore International Culinary College has begun its conversion of the former Charles E. Weglein School No. 2 at Pratt Street and Central Avenue in Little Italy. The college spent $2 million for the former school.

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