There's a sad irony involving the Cathedral Street building that was selected as the new home for Chase-Brexton Health Services Inc.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was the home of Girard's, one of the most sophisticated discos Baltimore had ever seen -- the local equivalent of New York's Studio 54.
Now, as the headquarters of Chase-Brexton, it's home for Maryland's largest community-based provider of HIV-related health care.
And many of the people who go there now for care were once patrons of the well-known nightclub.
The connection was noted several times during ceremonies held Tuesday to mark the grand reopening of the four-story building at 1001 Cathedral St. and the unveiling of a Wall of Courage memorial inside the front entrance.
"From the Seventies' and Eighties' disco scene to contemporary health care facility," announced CBHS executive director David Shippee, as if reading a headline to the several hundred people who gathered in the rain for the ribbon-cutting.
The building that housed the nightclub, which went out of business after it was damaged by a five-alarm fire in late 1985, is just one of many structures in Baltimore and around the nation that have been renovated to help care for people with human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
"I've calculated that 1 million square feet of space has been redesigned, renovated and otherwise brought on line to do what we do here," Mr. Shippee said. "And that's not counting academic medical centers. It's an amazing amount of space."
Established in 1972, Chase-Brexton is a nonprofit organization that provides medical, psychological and social services without regard for the recipient's ability to pay. It has been providing primary care services to HIV-infected adults since 1988. It moved to Cathedral Street after outgrowing smaller quarters in the Medical Arts Building one block away.
The building rededicated on Tuesday was constructed in 1923 as home for the Cleveland Automobile Co. and later housed the Bittorf Ford dealership. Part of the Mount Vernon historic district, it was designed by Smith and May, one of the firms that worked on the NationsBank tower at 10 Light St. Its distinctive features include Italian marble details, sculpted stonework and cast iron grillwork.
Following its stint as a nightclub from 1978 to 1985, it was renovated for medical office use by G. W. Helfrich Inc., with Schamu Machowski Doo and Associates as the restoration architect. But Helfrich was unable to find tenants for the 21,000-square-foot building and lost it to Signet Bank in a 1992 foreclosure.
Chase-Brexton bought it from Signet in 1993 for $550,000 and has spent $292,000 on renovations. Garey Lambert, vice chair of Aids Action Baltimore, described it as "a strong testament to the community's perseverance and will."
As part of the latest conversion, street-level space has been occupied by the City Cafe and Lammas Women's Books and More. Upper floors contain medical treatment rooms, offices and waiting areas of the clinic. James Morrison of RTKL Associates designed Chase-Brexton's space at 30 percent of the going rate for design services. Schaefer Construction Co. was the general contractor.
The Wall of Courage is Baltimore's only "living AIDS memorial." It consists of 4-inch-square ceramic tiles bearing the names of people who have died of AIDS, a leading cause of death for men and women in Baltimore between the ages of 25 and 44. Each tile represents a $125 donation, and the proceeds are used to provide care for Chase-Brexton clients. So far, 150 tiles are in place, and there is room for 1,000.
Chase-Brexton's capital campaign has raised $209,000 to help pay for the renovation of 1001 Cathedral St., with a goal of $292,000.
"Our job is to continue the fight against AIDS," said Merle McCann, president of the board of directors. Despite this opening ceremony, "the need for money is still there."
James Rouse lecture
Urban visionary James W. Rouse will speak about "Housing Initiatives and the Enterprise Foundation" in a public talk at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., on May 16 at 5:30 p.m. It is the seventh annual Alexander Cochran Lecture sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. Tickets are $5 for members of the foundation and the historical society, and $8 for others. Information: 625-2585.