Architectural history on display

JACQUES KELLY

June 30, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Nearly 20 years ago, a wrecking crew was tearing apart the old Emerson Hotel at the northwest corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets.

It was a standard wrecking job of a familiar landmark at the end of its economic life. There were a few nostalgic pieces in the newspapers. Some people who walked by recalled their high school proms or wedding receptions at the Emerson, but there was not much thought given to what a magnificent piece of 1911 construction and design was being trashed.

Now two decades after the Emerson's demise, a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the AIA Gallery on West Chase Street looks at the old hotel and the men who gave Baltimore so many of our fallen -- and standing -- landmarks. The Baltimore Architecture Foundation -- known by its members as the Dead Architects Society -- has put together a fine educational tribute to many of the buildings that gave -- and give -- Baltimore its character and tone. The volunteer group has spent many hours researching the departed designers of an older, more stately Baltimore.

Consider, for example, the old Maryland Penitentiary at Forrest and Eager streets, the work of architect Jackson C. Gott (1829-1909). The state decided to raze the south wing earlier this year, despite its massive Port Deposit granite walls. Gott also designed a mini-version of the Pen, the old Southern police station at Patapsco and Ostend streets.

E. Francis Baldwin (1837-1916) must have been the envy of his profession. He had two of the most powerful clients in Maryland -- the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Today, there's a former rail station named after him in Sykesville -- it's a restaurant named Baldwin's -- but alas, his name never made it on a church. His tombstone at New Cathedral Cemetery off Edmondson Avenue will have to do.

Joseph Evans Sperry (1854-1930) was in every way a giant of his profession. He was physically large and ethically pure. His firm produced many fine designers. Credit this designer for our beloved Bromo-Seltzer Tower, the old Provident Savings Bank at Howard and Saratoga -- some say its stout Romanesque walls mirrored Sperry's waistline -- and the Equitable Building at Calvert and Fayette streets.

It is Sperry's fine drawing for his Hotel Emerson, shown here for the first time in many years, that provokes thought, misgivings and outright stomach cramps for what Baltimore surrendered when so little was done to save that old hostelry. And the display of the Sperry drawing begs the question why is everybody so quick to raze the old Southern Hotel at Light and Redwood streets and buildings adjacent to it.

The soaring tower of Bethel A.M.E. Church, Druid Hill Avenue and Lanvale Street, is the work of the shy William Rich Hutton (1826-1901), whose brother Nathaniel (1834-1907) also toiled at a drawing board. William Hutton gave Northwest Baltimore several landmarks, including the Beethoven Terrace apartments at Park Avenue and McMechen Street, while his brother designed Brown Memorial Presbyterian at Park and Lafayette avenues. The Huttons left little information about themselves. Only one drawing survives. It is for St. Rose of Lima Church near Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, in whose church yard William Hutton is buried.

Baltimore suffered another capital loss when J.B. Noel Wyatt's 1917 Automobile Club of Maryland came down at Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street. Wyatt (1847-1933), from an old aristocratic family, was one of the city's best trained architects. Just look to his classic Roland Park Shopping Center in the 4800 block of Roland Ave. No wonder so many movies made in Baltimore in the last 15 years have slipped in some footage of its Tudor facade.

Perhaps the most unlucky of the dead architects is Henry F. Brauns, a man whose portfolio once included the city's main Post Office, the mighty Gail & Ax tobacco warehouse and the Mount Royal pumping station. All are gone. The Post Office was razed in the late 1920s; the tobacco house went for Inner Harbor renewal; the pumping station disappeared for the Jones Falls Expressway.

The exhibit, "American Institute of Architects -- the First Generation," opens tomorrow at the AIA Gallery, 11 1/2 W. Chase Street. It runs through July 31. The gallery is open Mondays to Thursdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A walking tour of Mount Vernon landmarks is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 17.

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