A great old building joins downtown's future

URBAN LANDSCAPE

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

As refined as it is, the Palladian-style exterior of the old Furness House on South Street doesn't prepare you for the grandeur inside.

Walk past a cozy reception area, ride a small elevator to the second floor, and you'll wind up in the midst of a great hall, with high ceilings, ornate columns and a clear vista from one end of the building to the other.

Was this the restoration of an old banking hall, previously undiscovered in Baltimore's renaissance? Or the counting room of some 19th century railroad baron?

No, it's practically all-new construction, finished within the past few weeks, but made to capture the old-fashioned feel of Baltimore's financial district.

One of the most attractive work spaces in the city, the renovation combines high-tech amenities with the classical look and character of buildings constructed long ago.

What else would you expect from Alex. Brown & Sons, the 192-year investment banking firm? Its headquarters at 135 E. Baltimore St. has been a downtown landmark since 1900. When the company needed additional space for two affiliates -- Brown Asset Management and the newly formed Brown Advisory and Trust Co. -- representatives considered leasing space in some of the newer office towers.

What they discovered is that they could rent space in an older building at a much lower cost than in an office tower, and use the savings to customize the renovated space.

After more than a year of planning and construction, the Brown affiliates moved last weekend into the Furness House at 19-21 South St.

"It's a wonderful use for this building and a nice addition to downtown Baltimore," said Richard Hale, managing director of Baltimore Asset Management and chief financial officer of Brown Advisory and Trust Co. "Having been many years in an historic setting, we all have an affinity for classical buildings, and Furness House is certainly one. It's been a fun project, from beginning to end."

Landlord David Cordish of the Cordish Co. is happy, too.

"They have good credit," he quipped. "They will pay the rent. You can't do better than to have Alex. Brown as a tenant." One of the Baltimore's architectural gems, the two-story building was designed by Edward H. Glidden and completed in 1917 for Furness-Withy, a steamship company based in London. Ramsey, Scarlett & Co, a transportation services company, bought the building in 1971 and occupied it for nearly 20 years before selling to Mr. Cordish. He upgraded the building by installing air conditioning, an elevator and 12 windows in the north wall.

Brown's space was designed by Columbia Design Collective, including architects Richard Burns and Luis Bernardo and former partner Susan Boyles. Cordish worked with architects Peter Powell and Peter Fillat. Constantine Commercial Construction was Brown's general contractor; Hencken & Gaines worked for Cordish.

CDC created an interior design that preserved the best of what remained while adding compatible new elements. On the second floor, much of the new construction is a clever reinterpretation of exterior details, including Corinthian and Doric columns and round windows cut in two "triumphal arches" that echo the pediment-capped front entrance.

The result is a strong vote of confidence for downtown Baltimore and its stock of older buildings.

After all, if tight-fisted money managers such as Alex. Brown can find a way to bring a great old building into the future, others ought to be able to do the same. "We mind our money the way mind our client's money," Mr. Hale said. "We look at it as an

investment."

New historic district

Sudbrook Park, a "model community" designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and built starting in 1891, is Baltimore County's newest historic district. The Baltimore County Council this month unanimously approved a request to put an 86-acre district north of Milford Mill Road under the protection of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission. That gives the commission authority to review and approve all plans for new construction and alterations to properties and to force owners to fix up neglected buildings.

Containing 75 homes, including examples of the Shingle, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, Sudbrook Park is the fifth historic district in Baltimore County. Others are Lutherville, Glyndon, Monkton and Corbett.

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