Episcopal Diocese of Md. sells old headquarters for $350,000

October 31, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, which put its vacant West Monument Street headquarters on the market in 1990, has sold the property for $350,000 -- less than a third of the original asking price of $1.25 million.

But while the four-story brownstone mansion near Mount Vernon Place took longer to sell and brought far less than had been expected, the separate sale of its Tiffany stained-glass windows in 1991 for a surprising $517,000 means that, after payment of fees and commissions, the diocese has netted $771,038.

The windows were sold by Christie's auction gallery in New York for more than double their estimated value.

Church officials say they are happy with the two sales. The diocese used the money to pay a large part of its remaining loan from a bank, reducing its debt to $345,300.

The diocese had borrowed funds in 1990 to cover much of the $4.13 million construction cost of its new office center adjacent to the Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway, between Charles and St. Paul streets.

Representatives of Agora Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm, said some of its 120 Baltimore employees will begin to move into the old Diocesan House soon. The company is refurbishing the building.

Agora began in 1979 with an eight-page newsletter called International Living. Its founder and president is William Robert Bonner, who now oversees interests that include the publishing of 25 financial newsletters and academic books, and a private, international organization for investors called the Oxford Club. The fast-growing company has offices in London, Washington, D.C., and Boca Raton, Fla., in addition to Baltimore, a spokesman said. It recently moved its executive offices to 14 W. Mount Vernon Place, another city landmark that it purchased about a block from the former Episcopal Church headquarters.

Agora will vacate its offices at 807 and 809 E. Baltimore St. but continue to occupy 824 E. Baltimore St. after the move to 105 W. Monument St. The diocese actually sold its building to Monument Limited Liability Corp., which is owned by Agora's principals, company and church officials said.

The high-ceilinged, richly paneled, 23-room mansion was bought by the Episcopal Diocese for $22,500 in 1936, when the Right Rev. Edward T. Helfenstein was the bishop of Maryland. He authorized an expenditure of $12,500 on its renovations, including the furnishing of a handsome chapel on the first floor.

Four subsequent diocesan bishops and their staffs have occupied its elegant offices. The move to the new center on University Parkway was initiated by Bishop A. Theodore Eastman, who retired Jan. 31. A diocesan search committee is charged with nominating his successor.

Although the date of the construction of the old Diocesan House DTC is uncertain, turn-of-the-century newspaper accounts say that, as the Mount Vernon Hotel until the 1890s, it "boasted as fine a bar as any in the city." The actor Edwin Booth was a frequent guest.

The windows from the Tiffany Studios were installed in 1902, when the building became the private residence of Baltimore banker and financier Waldo Newcomer, who reportedly paid $100,000 for it.

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