City landmark saved by an angel

URBAN LANDSCAPE

August 19, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

An angel has emerged for the former parish house of Old St. Paul's Church in downtown Baltimore.

The fate of the 1870s-era landmark has been in doubt since last summer, when a Hagerstown bank bought it at auction. Earlier in the year, the bank had begun foreclosure proceedings against a Baltimore group that converted the building to offices in 1983.

But this month, the law firm of Boyd, Benson & Hendrickson signed a lease that will give it control of the building at 309 Cathedral St. for the next 20 years. Boyd, Benson plans to occupy part of the space and lease the rest to others. The law firm now leases space in the old Odd Fellows Hall across the street from the parish house.

"We're tickled to be moving in there, especially with the history of it," said attorney Frank Benson. "We had decided to move out of the building we're in, and it was a question of staying downtown or moving out to Towson. We felt we had an obligation to Baltimore City to keep it as viable as possible. There's too much of an exodus from Baltimore City now, and that's why we decided to stay downtown."

Built on part of the estate of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard, St. Paul's House until about 10 years ago served as a meeting hall for the church at Charles and Saratoga streets and a home for single women.

By the early 1980s, the 14,000-square-foot building had fallen into disrepair, and a group headed by Martin P. Azola negotiated with the parish vestry to lease it in return for providing rehabilitated office space for the church.

Under that agreement, the church retained ownership of the building and the land beneath it. At the time, the renovation plan was regarded as an innovative way for churches to work with private developers to maintain historic properties. Boyd, Benson & Hendrickson plans to move to the second floor of the parish house next month. It also has leased space on the fourth floor to Harold E. Burns, Esq. Other tenants include Purnell Galleries and the vestry.

Going, going, gone

The Maryland Institute College of Art has begun dismantling its "Fudo Studio," the award-winning Japanese sculpture studio that was erected several years ago next to Mount Royal Station.

Designed free of charge by RTKL Associates -- with Keith Mehner, 31, as project architect -- the simple pitched-roof structure was made of telephone poles, Fiberglas sheeting and corrugated metal.

It was built at a cost of $100,000 to accommodate three Japanese sculptors as they created a 33-foot-tall, 7-ton Buddha figure. The wood sculpture was donated earlier this year to the Becton Dickinson Corp. in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects gave the studio a national award for design excellence, making it one of only 12 Maryland buildings to be so recognized since the AIA's awards program began in 1949. Jurors said they admired the studio's Japanese simplicity.

But Baltimore's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation ruled that the building did not fit in with the Mount Royal historic district and that the Maryland Institute had to take it down once the sculptors finished their work.

It is rare for an architect in his early 30s to see one of his buildings torn down -- especially one that has received national recognition. But Mr. Mehner, who has since opened his own design office, said yesterday that he didn't mind because the building was never meant to last. "I designed it that way, so it's not that much of a shock."

Design competition

The Schaefer administration has launched an international design competition to select an architect for the "Maryland Center for Performing Arts," the $83 million arts center planned for the University of Maryland's College Park campus.

Maryland's Department of General Services has set Sept. 20 as the deadline for architects to express interest in competing. A "short list" of competitors will be named by November, and they will have until January to complete their entries. A winner will be announced in February.

State legislators last spring approved $2.2 million in design funds for the project, which will be constructed with state bond revenues and $10 million from Prince George's County. Preliminary plans call for a 1,500-seat concert hall, 200-seat recital hall, and two other theaters seating a total of 800.

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