Garage spared, hotel in danger


February 25, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Even in ruins, it has an eerie beauty, a glorious twisted order.

But can it come back from the rubble? Is it even worth picking up the pieces?

Those questions have been debated by city officials and others since a third of the roof of the old Greyhound bus station garage collapsed Monday with a thunderous roar, a victim of last weekend's snowstorm.

Late yesterday, an answer came from the Schmoke administration. The city will rebuild the fallen roof of the old bus garage, a building targeted for redevelopment since the city acquired it in the mid-1980s. A contract to replace the roof should be out for bids in three weeks, according to housing department spokesman Zack Germroth.

Who cares about saving a vacant bus station garage?

Anyone who saw what a beautiful space it made in 1991 when it was a home for The Contemporary, the 4-year-old "roving museum" that has made a name for itself by presenting contemporary art in temporary, often unexpected places.

When curators transformed the garage to a display space for an exhibit entitled "Photo Manifesto: Contemporary Photography in the USSR," the building stole the show. The space was tailor-made for an upstart museum such as The Contemporary: offbeat, accessible, funky, unpretentious, more than a little gritty.

What made the space so distinctive was the high ceiling with skylights that let sunshine filter through an almost lacy, wooden truss system -- the very trusses that collapsed. "The roof trusses are what gave it such a wonderful quality," said local preservationist Donna Beth Joy Shapiro. "Once you're inside, you see that the building is worth saving and really adaptable to a number of uses."

Part of the Mount Vernon historic district, the garage is also significant because it is a companion to the restored Greyhound station at Howard and Centre streets. Many cities have art moderne Greyhound stations, but few have both a station and a companion service garage.

Since the photo exhibit ended, members of The Contemporary's board have quietly been exploring the possibility of renting the garage from the city and using it as a permanent home base for the museum.

Last year, a museum-led team responded to the city's request for proposals to recycle the garage. The team included Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, Bacon & Co., and the architectural firm of Ziger Hoopes & Snead -- an all-star cast.

In May, the team was awarded an exclusive negotiating priority for the building. During the next six months, it was required to prove that it had the financial resources and community support to carry out its project, estimated to cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

City officials asked the museum to hire a professional fund-raiser. In turn, board members asked the city to fix the weak roof. City officials indicated a willingness to pay for the repairs but had not begun work. And then the snow came.

Mr. Germroth said the city can act quickly now because the roof repair contract was already in the works. He said it will be modified to include new trusses, new roof beams, and replacement of part of the north wall, which collapsed.

The Contemporary has a long way to go before it can move into the restored garage, but "the location is perfect, said board President James McComas. "It worked so well as it was for our art presentations, and it worked so well for the corridor."

Demolition sought for Southern Hotel

Owners of the Southern Hotel at Light and Redwood streets formally applied yesterday for permission to raze the 14-story building, a historic landmark since 1986.

A group headed by Capital Guidance Corp. of Washington wants to raze the hotel and put in a park, until the real estate market improves so it can to build an office tower. The decision whether to approve the demolition permit falls to acting Housing Commissioner Harold Perry, who replaced Robert W. Hearn.

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