Urban Landscape New garage will match old building Happy blending: A new 231-car parking garage will match architectural elements of the adjoining 1905 building on East Redwood Street.

Urban Landscape

September 28, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

When does a parking garage not look like a parking garage?

When it looks like the historic office building to which it's (P attached.

That's the approach taken by DRBrasher Architects, designers of a 231-car garage that will soon rise at the corner of Calvert and Water streets, in the heart of Baltimore's financial district.

As seen from Calvert Street, the garage will have some of the same proportions and surface materials as the office building at 131 E. Redwood St., former headquarters for the predecessor of USF&G Corp. That six-story building will be renovated and linked to the garage as part of the $10 million venture.

Orion Construction Corp. of Laurel is the developer of the project, called Redwood Center. Orion recently acquired 131 E. Redwood and a 12-story companion at 26 S. Calvert St., initially built as an annex for USF&G's predecessor.

Both structures have been vacant for years. The building at 131 E. Redwood dates from 1905 and was designed by Otto Simonson. Its Calvert Street neighbor was designed by Wyatt and Nolting and built from 1921 to 1929.

Orion intends to renovate 131 E. Redwood for continued office use, with retail space at the street and basement levels. But it wants to raze 26 S. Calvert to make way for the garage.

Its project team, led by Paul F. Black Jr., reasoned that 26 S. Calvert is not as worthy of preservation as 131 E. Redwood because it is not as old, not as attractive, and would not be as cost-efficient to refurbish, since its floors are small and narrow. They believe it's more sensible to replace that building with a garage that will make the Redwood offices more marketable.

According to preliminary drawings presented to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, the garage's Calvert Street facade will be the same proportion as the Calvert Street side of 131 E. Redwood, and the rhythm of the window openings will be similar as well.

Materials on the garage's surface would be similar to those on the older building -- limestone and brick. The architects even plan to salvage parts of the metal cornice from 26 S. Calvert and attach them near the top of the Calvert Street garage to create another visual link.

By taking cues from 131 E. Redwood, said principal architect Ron Brasher, the new garage in effect will be paying homage to the old building, without overwhelming it.

"We wanted to marry the two," Mr. Brasher said. "We wanted to reflect some of the flavor of the older building in the new one."

That was easy because the Redwood Street building has "a lot of strong elements to relate to," he added. "It's really a delightful building."

Demolition of 26 S. Calvert is scheduled to begin in January, Mr. Brasher said, and the office space will be ready by next August.

The architect said he had an advantage in making the addition look like something other than a garage because its upper and lower floors will be occupied by people rather than cars.

The lower two levels will contain retail space, just like the corresponding levels of 131 E. Redwood. And the top level actually will be office space that lines up with the sixth-floor offices inside 131 E. Redwood.

Mr. Brasher predicts the garage will add life to downtown by continuing the commercial activity along Water Street from Light Street through to Calvert Street and providing after-hours parking for patrons. "It could be a very nice architectural experience."

It's ironic that the USF&G building is being saved just as USF&G Corp. is making plans to move its headquarters from downtown Baltimore to Mount Washington, and it's a credit to housing commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and his colleagues at the Baltimore Development Corp.

They insisted for years that the Redwood Street building should not be torn down for a parking lot, as the previous owners hinted they would like to do, because it enhanced Redwood Street and still had potential for office use.

Fortunately, Orion emerged to make it happen.

Aid for St. John's library

The new library at St. John's College in Annapolis is on target for a spring 1996 opening, with a funding boost from the state. Maryland's Board of Public Works yesterday approved a $1.98 million grant to help complete the $6.8 million project.

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