Hopkins' villa is being restored


March 23, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

When university founder Johns Hopkins couldn't sleep, historians say, he didn't take it lying down. The 19th-century merchant, philanthropist and insomniac moved away from the noise and bustle of the city to what was then quiet countryside -- a summer estate he called Clifton.

Now, with less than two months to go before the 200th anniversary of Hopkins' birth on May 19, 1795, his beloved Italianate villa is about to be restored with help from AmeriCorps, President Bill Clinton's youth service initiative.

A local affiliate of the nationwide corps called Civic Works leased the city-owned mansion for its headquarters and has begun to repair it as a service project.

To help pay for initial phases of the restoration, the Maryland General Assembly last year allocated $200,000. Other contributors so far include the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The total cost of restoring the building may be $5 million or more, but corps members will be participating in the construction as part of their service program, and that involvement is expected to stretch the limited funds.

"Clifton is a great asset for the city," said John Brunnett, a Baltimore architect who is guiding the restoration for Civic Works. "It was Hopkins' estate, and it's a prime example of the Italian villa style of architecture. It has great potential."

Located at 2701 Saint Lo Drive in Clifton Park, the mansion dates from 1802, when Baltimore merchant Henry Thompson constructed a two-story farmhouse there. Hopkins bought it at auction in 1841 for $15,800. By 1852, working with architects John Niernsee and J. Crawford Neilson, Hopkins had built a third floor and a tower. He also bought more land and added an artificial lake, islands, bridges, an orangery and 100 pieces of marble statuary.

After his death in 1873, the property went into decline, and the city purchased it in 1895. By the early 1900s, much of the land became a park with an 18-hole golf course, and the mansion was turned into a clubhouse. When a new clubhouse opened in 1993, the mansion became available for other uses.

City parks Superintendent Calvin Buikema first suggested to Civic Works Executive Director Dana Stein that he lease the building. Even unrestored, it works well, Mr. Stein said. "It provides a huge amount of space. It's distinctive. It's in a park. It's consistent with our themes."

The intent behind the state's grant was "not only to restore Clifton Mansion but to provide opportunities for training young people -- to impart some skills," Mr. Stein added.

The restoration is in keeping with Civic Works' mission of "giving something back to the community," said project manager Thomas Ebel. "Many corps have one project that they consider their signature piece. This is perfect for our signature piece."

Active in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Civic Works provides service opportunities for up to 72 corps members aged 17 to 25. Participants work 11 months a year on projects ranging from rehabilitating homes to tutoring public school students. Those who complete the program receive $4,725 to help finance their education or pay back student loans.

The mansion was altered significantly when it was a clubhouse. For instance, the parlor was turned into a locker room, and attendants parked golf carts in the basement. Mr. Brunnett said his immediate goals are to weatherize and repair the building and make it accessible to people in wheelchairs. His long-range objective is to undo the "remuddling" that occurred and restore rooms to their 1852 appearance.

Mr. Ebel said Civic Works would like to upgrade the mansion so that community groups would be able to use it for conferences and other gatherings. He hopes the initial work will attract the support of others, including the nearby Hopkins institutions.

"We're confident that if we're good stewards of the mansion, the project will gain some visibility and momentum," he said.

Walking Tour

"The Architecture of Baltimore: A Walking Tour Program," is the title of a five-week series that the Maryland Institute College of Art will launch Saturday. Featured areas include Belair-Edison, Bancroft Park, Roland Park, Guilford and Anneslie. For information, call 225-2219.

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