Architectural panel too political, critic says Replace lawyers, she recommends BALTIMORE CITY

October 06, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The panel set up to safeguard Baltimore's built heritage must be overhauled and given more authority if Baltimore is to retain its unique character, architectural critic Phoebe B. Stanton warned yesterday.

In a speech at the Maryland Historical Society, Dr. Stanton suggested the Schmoke administration replace the lawyers on Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation with people who know about historic buildings.

The commission "has over the years been so politicized that its work has been compromised. It can't grow. It's just stuck," said Dr. Stanton, one of the board's original members and a professor emeritus of architecture and art history at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Lawyers have no business as members of the commission," she said. "Its members should be people who understand the Baltimore urban building tradition, senior architects, scholars, citizens who know the city, representatives of the neighborhoods. . . . Only if we know and understand our urban heritage can we retain the best, and learn what to guard against when we reform and rebuild."

CHAP's current chairman is a lawyer and many of its members have been politically connected lawyers and business people with little background in architectural history.

In recent years, critics have dubbed CHAP the "demolition commission" for failing to block the razing of key downtown landmarks such as the Tower Building. Crews soon are expected to begin dismantling the Southern Hotel.

Dr. Stanton, a former Johns Hopkins University professor and member of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, recommended that the area overseen by the strengthened panel be expanded to stretch from Broadway on the east to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the west, and from the financial district downtown to North Avenue.

"The landowners would go crazy," she said. "But otherwise, we're going to lose the city."

In delivering the 6th annual Alexander Cochran lecture, sponsored by the Baltimore Architectural Foundation, Dr. Stanton discussed the architectural bounty left by past generations and decried the way much of it has been altered.

"I have concluded that too often form follows not function, but money," she lamented. "This city should go back to basics, look to itself for inspiration . . . and not allow the vagaries of the tastes of developers to prevail."

Dr. Stanton recommended that many of the city's one-way streets be converted to handle two-way traffic.

She also noted the failure of high-rise public housing: "It is ironic that it has recently been suggested that some high-rise housing be demolished to be replaced by low-rise dwellings of exactly the same scale as the modest houses that were pulled down to make way for the towers."

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