Second 'Museum Row' forming on south side of Inner Harbor


March 17, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore has had a "Museum Row" on the east side of the Inner Harbor for more than a decade. Stretching from the Shot Tower on Fayette Street to the Public Works Museum on President Street, it includes nearly a dozen small museums or historic sites.

Now a second Museum Row seems to be taking shape on the south side of the Inner Harbor, in the 800 block of Key Highway.

Located at the foot of Federal Hill, it represents an intriguing expansion of the cultural offerings around the waterfront and a way for the city to encourage growth that will not obscure views from Federal Hill.

The American Visionary Art Museum is already under construction inside and around the old Trolley Works building at Key Highway and Covington Street.

When complete in mid-1995, the $6.5 million project will be the national repository of sculpture, paintings and other works by "outsider" or "visionary" artists -- self-taught individuals independent of the influence of mainstream art.

Just south of the museum site, a former whiskey barrel warehouse had been targeted for conversion to a $9 million National Bicycling Museum.

But the sponsor, a national organization called the League of American Wheelmen, never moved ahead with its plan, and the Visionary Art Museum recently expressed interest in taking over that city-owned building to launch a second phase of its project.

Gilbert Clark, the league's executive director, said the proposed bicycle museum turned out to be prohibitively expensive to build inside the warehouse and the group put its plans "on the back burner."

Rebecca Hoffberger, president and founder of the visionary art museum, said the four-story warehouse would be ideal to exhibit large works that would not fit into the museum's first phase.

For example, some visionary artists have created residences that are works of art, such as a "beer can house."

Several different residences could be displayed in the warehouse, she said.

Architects of the museum's first phase, Alex Castro and Rebecca Swanston, are preparing drawings to show how the warehouse might be recycled.

Once the design work is complete, Ms. Hoffberger said, she intends to submit a proposal to the Baltimore Development Corp.

A different group has been exploring plans to use a city-owned parcel at 840 Key Highway to construct a $15 million Heritage Museum of Art.

Rising four levels and containing 70,000 square feet of space, the museum would feature works by African-American, Latin American, American Indian and West Indian artists and others.

Steven X. Lee, head of the group planning the Heritage Museum, originally proposed creating it inside the Pier 4 Power Plant. That building was subsequently awarded to a group that wants to turn it into a $32 million sports museum.

Mr. Lee said the city's development corporation suggested the Key Highway parcel, used for many years by the Baltimore Koppers Paint Co., as an alternative.

Architect Charles Owens of Sulton Campbell Britt Owens & Associates has been working on preliminary drawings to show how a museum might fit.

Leslie Howard, development director for the development corporation, said his agency now needs a formal proposal from the Heritage Museum before officials can decide whether to award exclusive negotiating rights for the land.

Last fall, the state of Maryland disclosed plans to build a $15 million African-American museum at the northeast corner of Pratt and President streets, near Little Italy.

Mr. Lee said his project would not overlap because the state museum would focus on Maryland artifacts and history while the Heritage Museum would reflect the fine art and history of people from a variety of places and cultures.

He added that he likes the idea of occupying a site on the south side of the Inner Harbor, rather than one next to the African-American museum.

"I like the dynamics of the neighborhood," he said. "I like the newness of the whole area."

Town Meeting

Redevelopment plans for the east side of downtown Baltimore will be discussed during a town meeting at the Baltimore City Life Museums, Lombard and President streets, at 7:30 p.m. on March 24.

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