Coalition rallies to Odorite's support

URBAN LANDSCAPE

April 08, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

One of the toughest challenges for any preservation group is to stay one step ahead of the bulldozer.

That's especially difficult in a less-than-robust economy, because even if a building is "saved" one year, it may become endangered the next.

The latest worry of local preservationists is the Odorite building, a two-story Elizabethan-Tudor style building at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues, part of the University of Baltimore campus.

Preservationists thought they had won in 1990, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered that the university save the state-owned building. University President H. Mebane Turner had wanted to tear it down to create a parking lot for the Robert G. Merrick School of Business under construction on the same block. But Mr. Schaefer told the university to find a permanent use for it.

More than two years later, university officials still haven't come up with any long-range plans. They have allowed the Odorite building to be used temporarily as offices for the general contractor constructing the business school. But they have done little to keep the Odorite building in good repair.

Paint is peeling off two sides of the building, and bare wood shows in some spots. Windows are filthy, and planters are empty.

The situation has caught the attention of the Coalition of Baltimore City Historic Neighborhoods, a 4-year-old group that monitors the city's 18 historic districts.

"We are very grateful to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and to the Maryland Historic Trust for saving the building," corresponding secretary Marion Blackwell said in a recent letter to state historic preservation officer J. Rodney Little. "We are concerned now, however, that the empty and unused Odorite not be demolished through neglect."

Built in 1915-1916 as a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co. and most recently home to a pesticide and janitorial supply firm, the building was acquired by the university in 1989. Its human-scaled details and pleasant proportions reflect an era when American architects drew on European styles to give buildings a sense of permanence and tradition.

Ms. Blackwell suggested that the trust launch a feasibility study to determine the cost of recycling the Odorite building as a bookstore, retail space or offices. "It's one of the premier buildings on Mount Royal Avenue," she said.

Mr. Little replied that the trust lacks money to undertake any studies but noted the university is required to have plans for all historic properties under its control.

Mr. Turner said that the university has its own financial constraints. He said the university built a new east wall and used the building to house the contractor so it wouldn't stand vacant.

He explained that the university's general plan is to create an academic building on the Odorite site, with three levels of classroom space and possibly a student union. The Odorite building may be incorporated into that project, he said, but plans have not been fleshed out and the construction timetable is uncertain.

Mr. Turner said planners haven't taken a closer look at recycling the Odorite building because preliminary studies indicate it

would cost $1 million to renovate, money the university doesn't have.

Mr. Turner added that he has talked with several prospective users about occupying the building temporarily after the contractors leave in late 1994, including a wood-carving group, but none has the money needed to fix it up.

"We don't have any great plot to let it fall down," he added. "As long as we have people in there, that will help keep it in good shape."

By inquiring about the status of a neglected building, the coalition is demonstrating there is a citywide constituency that cares about neglected landmarks such as Odorite. It puts officials on notice that someone is out there watching. That may not be the best way to make friends in high places. But sometimes it's the only way to stay one step ahead of the bulldozer.

The Baltimore Architectural Foundation will begin its 1993 Walking Tour series Saturday at 10 a.m. Starting at the Armistead Memorial in Federal Hill Park, the group will explore the Federal Hill and Otterbein neighborhoods and the downtown business district. The cost is $10 each.

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