Art studio to replace former Y

January 17, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

For years, Bob and Genevieve McWilliams, owners of Annapolis Pottery, used to picnic on the State House lawn overlooking the 150-year-old Bond Hotel building and daydream about moving their business there.

Now, the dream is coming true as the building at State Circle and Francis Street, most recently the headquarters of the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, is being renovated as a potter's studio.

"We've been drooling over it a long time," said Mr. McWilliams, whose pottery shop has been a fixture around the corner on Cornhill Street for three decades.

"We'd sit there and say, 'if only, if only,' " Mrs. McWilliams recalled.

The fantasy became reality last year when the YWCA decided to sell the building, once a railroad ticket office, a saloon and a brothel, and move.

The nonprofit group, which provides social and recreational services to the community, moved its Corner Shop and Book Store and second-floor administrative offices to the Arnold Village building on Ritchie Highway in December. The consignment shop is expected to reopen this spring.

YWCA Executive Director Delores J. Bail said the group needed room to grow. It had only 4,000 square feet at the Bond Hotel; the Arnold Village building, which still is being remodeled, has more than 30,000 square feet.

But the YWCA gave up its home of 73 years reluctantly, Mrs. Bail said. The YWCA bought the hotel for $5,000 in 1920, shortly after the chapter was established, and set up a boarding house for women and a cafeteria.

"A lot of young people from St. John's [College] and the Naval Academy would eat here," Mrs. Bail said. "We've had a lot of people come into the [consignment] store who'd say, 'Oh, I met my husband here' or 'I met my wife here.' Apparently, it was one of the only respectable places young people could go."

The YWCA closed the cafeteria in the 1960s and later converted the space to a coffeehouse, then a consignment shop, where housebound members -- often, mothers with young children or the elderly -- could sell homemade crafts.

When YWCA leaders put the building on the market, they worried about who would buy it, Mrs. Bail said. "We were afraid a chain store or someone who wasn't really interested in the building would get it."

They were glad when the McWilliamses purchased the building last year for $400,000. "They'll be able to do what we couldn't to fix it up, to make it look like it ought to look right across the street from the state capital," Mrs. Bail said.

Mrs. McWilliams said the couple plans to restore the building's hardwood floors and install a Victorian-style tin ceiling. The second floor is being renovated as seven offices, which will be rented.

Providence and a recent, dramatic drop in real estate values made the sale possible, Mr. McWilliams said. Only a few years ago, the building was appraised at $650,000.

"If we sold it three years ago, we might have sold it for more, but we might have paid more for this [Arnold Village], too," said Mrs. Bail, who said they purchased the Arnold building for $1.1 million.

Neighbors already miss the YWCA shop. Mrs. McWilliams said a lot of customers stopped in her shop on Cornhill Street "during the holiday and wanted to know what happened to it."

But merchants are hoping the shop's new location, which should be visible up Francis Street from Main Street, will draw more customers up to State Circle and Maryland Avenue businesses. "We found out by experience that if you put out a sign that says 'Pottery,' people will come," Mr. McWilliams said.

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