History, progress collide at Hopkins


June 24, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Asked to judge whether a building is of landmark quality, historians can glean a great deal from books and photographs. But there's no substitute for a firsthand inspection.

That was the premise behind an unusual fact-finding mission this week at the Johns Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore. For more than an hour, members of the Maryland Historical Trust toured the former Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic to determine whether it should be spared from the wrecker's ball.

Hopkins announced plans last fall to build a $120 million comprehensive cancer center on the site of the Phipps building, built in 1913. But state lawmakers, asked to allocate $30 million for the project over several years, passed legislation requiring that plans for the Phipps site be reviewed by the state preservation agency.

Designed in an Edwardian style by Grosvenor Atterbury, the five-story Phipps building was one of the nation's earliest psychiatric clinics. Many well-known people were treated there, including Zelda Fitzgerald. After Hopkins' psychiatric department moved to a new facility in 1982, the structure was converted to offices and classrooms and renamed the Frank M. Houck Building.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, the legislator most vocal about the need to protect the building, maintains that it is one of Hopkins' most significant structures.

"It's an oasis in a desert of concrete," he said during the tour, which included a landscaped rear courtyard. "I'm all for Hopkins' expansion, but I think we could have a win-win situation by moving it to another site. It just would seem criminal to lose the one bit of greenery in the entire complex."

Trust members also visited the lobby and other public spaces on the first floor, offices on middle floors, and a top-level conference room and roof garden featuring panoramic views of the city. Several came away echoing the senator's views.

"They have to save this," said trust Vice Chairman Gale Yerges, from Somerset County. "I'm sure there's a way. Look what they did with Camden Yards. Now it's the talk of the country."

Trust member Mary Johnson, an East Baltimore resident, agreed. "If you've never been through this building, you would not realize how much there is to save. It adds dignity to the whole complex, right at the entry."

The scrutiny of the Maryland Historical Trust represents a new wrinkle for Hopkins administrators, who didn't foresee the groundswell of opposition to their demolition plans. Senator Lapides said he has received letters from people all over the country who want to save Phipps, especially physicians, former students and others familiar with the campus. He brought a stack of letters with him to show trust members.

Jane Stanek, Hopkins' senior director for governmental relations, explained that the Phipps site was the unanimous first choice of the physicians who will work in the new cancer facility because of its proximity to the center of campus.

Mr. Lapides was not persuaded by that argument. "They would tear down the dome [atop Hopkins' administration building] if you let them. Their mission is different from the historic trust's mission."

The trust has asked Hopkins to study alternative sites and report back to the state. Earlier this month, Hopkins trustees voted to hire Odell Associates of Charlotte, N.C., to head the design team for the $120 million project. Although Odell is well known nationally as a medical design specialist, its best known local project is the Baltimore Arena. Hired separately by Hopkins to evaluate preservation issues is Kann & Associates of Baltimore.

Ms. Johnson said she wants to be sure Hopkins' designers vigorously explore other sites and aren't merely "lukewarm" about responding to the trust's concerns.

Ms. Stanek assured her that Hopkins is seriously rethinking its options.

"I'm sure that the architects will consider all of the possibilities," she said. "At this point, I think anything is possible."

Exhibit opens July 1

Notable Baltimore buildings by 19th century architects will be the subject of a monthlong exhibit that opens July 1 at 5 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects Gallery, 11 1/2 W. Chase St.

The exhibit was compiled by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation's Historic Architects Roundtable, also known as the "Dead Architects Society."

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