Fire burns building on 25th St.

August 19, 1994|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

A four-alarm fire, which investigators believe was caused by an electrical malfunction, destroyed the top floor of one of the former Department of Education headquarters buildings in the first block of 25th St. yesterday afternoon.

Dark gray smoke billowing from the fire in the vacant, three-story building was visible for blocks, and police had to reroute traffic from Calvert and St. Paul streets. Firefighters had the fire under control by 4:30 p.m., about two hours after the first alarm, according to a Fire Department spokesman.

The building and one adjacent to it are slated to be demolished, along with the art deco Chesapeake Cadillac building and several rowhouses on the block, to make room for a 45,000-square-foot Safeway supermarket.

A city housing official said he was unsure how the fire would affect the projected $200,000 cost to prepare the two city-owned buildings for demolition.

"We have to sit down to see what impact this will have," said David K. Elam, development director at the Department of Housing and Community Development. "We have not had a chance to sit down and talk to Safeway or the community yet."

Safeway is expected to buy the buildings and pay for the demolition.

The former school system buildings have stood empty for seven years since the department headquarters was moved to North Avenue.

The Cadillac and Jaguar dealership has begun moving to its new location in Cockeysville.

When plans for the supermarket were announced in April, a preservation group protested the demolition of some buildings, including the school system buildings, claiming the structures were architecturally significant. Some residents also were concerned about increased noise and traffic that might be generated by the store.

But the city's Design Advisory Panel endorsed Safeway's plan a week ago, after twice rejecting it because of neighborhood concerns. That moved the project closer to final city approval.

Phillip Lee, an officer in the South Charles Village Partnership Inc., said most concerns have been adequately addressed by Safeway and the city. "We've been looking for something positive for a long time" to fill the block, he said.

Safeway may save the carved stone that adorn the corners of the dealership building and incorporate them into its construction, he said.

Residents and business people watching the fire yesterday said they welcomed the supermarket.

"They need a market around here," said Tony Bridges, who has lived in the 2400 block of Calvert St. for two years. "It's a central location, and I think it would benefit everybody."

Valerie Stuart, who works at a security agency across from the old school headquarters buildings, said the vacant structures have attracted vagrants. "They just boarded up the buildings three or four months ago, but people keep knocking [the boards] down."

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