Phipps avoids wrecking ball -- for nowThe former Phipps...


April 15, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Phipps avoids wrecking ball -- for now

The former Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, a 1913 landmark targeted for the wrecker's ball to make way for a major expansion of the Hopkins complex, has won something of a reprieve from state legislators.

In its capital budget, the General Assembly approved $6 million to help Hopkins build a $120 million comprehensive cancer center in East Baltimore. But the money came with strings attached.

Hopkins wants to put the cancer center on the Phipps site. But a last-minute amendment to the funding bill stipulates that Hopkins can't use any of the $6 million until its plans for the Phipps site are reviewed by the Maryland Historical Trust, the state's historic preservation agency.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, said he supports funding for the cancer center but submitted the amendment because he believes that demolition of the Phipps building would deprive the city of "one of our great architectural treasures."

He said the legislature's action means Hopkins can't bulldoze Phipps without going through a public review process and justifying why it needs to raze one of its oldest buildings.

Mr. Lapides said he is counting on the trust to oppose demolition as long as Hopkins has any other options. He said the language will also give the general public a chance to show support for the building at hearings and review sessions.

Before the bill passed, many preservationists believed the Phipps demolition was a foregone conclusion because of Hopkins' clout.

"This gives us some breathing room," Mr. Lapides said after the bill passed. "It means the preservation issue has to be resolved before any money becomes available for a project on the Phipps site. That's the intent. Now we have to get organized and muster some public support for the building."

Designed in an Edwardian style by Grosvenor Atterbury and located near the Wolfe Street entrance to the Hopkins complex, the Phipps building was one of the nation's earliest psychiatric clinics and the first to be constructed as part of a larger medical complex.

Because the Phipps clinic was a pioneering facility, many famous people came there for treatment. One was Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. To historians, the roster of patients is an important part of the building's heritage in the same way the roster of presidents and movie stars who stayed at the Belvedere Hotel is part of its heritage.

After Hopkins' psychiatric department moved to a new facility in 1982, the five-story brick Phipps building was converted to office and classroom space and renamed the Frank M. Houck Building, after a Hopkins benefactor.

Today, its scale and architectural details lend a humanizing presence to a medical complex that has grown intimidatingly large and impersonal. While Hopkins officials have not specifically said they would tear down the Phipps building, they have dropped strong hints. In November, when they disclosed plans for the new cancer center, they said the Phipps site was their first choice out of three under consideration because of its proximity to the rest of the complex and other logistical issues.

Other candidates were the northwest corner of Broadway and Orleans Street and a vacant lot south of the Wilmer Institute.

"Taking care of cancer patients in the best possible way must take precedence over our affection for a lovely Hopkins building," hospital President James A. Block said at the time.

Dr. Block could not be reached yesterday. Testifying before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in March, he said that if Hopkins weren't allowed to build on the Phipps site, it would be forced to look elsewhere -- and would do so.

Earlier this month, Dr. Block warned that any change of site at this point could slow down the project, scheduled to begin construction in early 1994 and to open in late 1996. "It would require that we . . . do a lot of rethinking," he said.

But he promised that the hospital will do all it can to work with the Maryland Historical Trust. "Everyone is aware of the importance of being sensitive to this issue," he said. The American Institute of Architects has selected Cambridge Seven Associates of Massachusetts as its 1993 Architectural Firm of the Year.

One of Cambridge Seven's best-known projects is the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It is currently working on plans to revamp the main terminal of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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