A Penney Saved

April 06, 1995

David Max, the developer who is transforming Westminster's former J.C. Penney store into an office building, deserves plaudits from the Carroll County seat for deciding to rebuild the facade using the original brickwork pattern. He could have replaced the exterior walls with a standard brick front and saved himself a few thousand bucks, but Mr. Max decided to place aesthetics above lucre.

This satisfactory settlement almost didn't happen. When Westminster's Historic Commission objected to Mr. Max's initial plans to alter the old facade, the ensuing public debate assailed the architectural review board for its alleged "zealotry" and ignored the substance of its concerns. A chorus of voices incorrectly accused the commission of imposing an onerous burden on a well-intentioned businessman in the interests of government nitpicking.

That characterization was way off the mark.

When renovation of this half-century-old building that occupies a prominent site on Main Street began last fall, the condition of the brickwork was unknown. After the porcelain-covered steel tiles were removed, Mr. Max discovered that a large number of bricks were badly damaged. Previous owners had attached the tiles by hanging them on wooden strips nailed to the brick.

As a result, Mr. Max had to rebuild the facade. He had a choice: Rebuild it using the Flemish-bond "basket weave" pattern that existed previously or use a standard pattern. His first choice was the latter.

Westminster's historic commission wasn't too enthusiastic and urged him to rebuild using the Flemish-bond, in which the long and short sides of the brick are alternated. Mr. Max ultimately agreed, demonstrating that a bottom-line oriented developer does not have to give aesthetic considerations the cold shoulder.

Flemish-pattern, standard pattern -- it's just bricks, some people would argue. But those are the architectural features that make small downtowns such as Westminster's unique. The charm of the city's core emanates from distinctive brick patterns and intricate window and door moldings and ornate cornices. Maintaining such flourishes isn't a business negative. To the contrary, they constitute one of downtown Westminster's greatest assets in a highly competitive suburban marketplace.

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