Fells Point house has history

Urban Landscape

October 19, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

IN THE 1960s, Lucretia Billings Fisher helped save the Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore by leading the fight against an interstate highway that would have destroyed it.

Today she's taking steps to showcase the area by giving away one of the buildings she helped rescue.

Mrs. Fisher has pledged to donate a 3 1/2 -story townhouse at 1732 Thames St. to the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, the organization she helped found in the mid-1960s to fight the highway.

The preservation society plans to use it to expand its headquarters, which is inside the Robert Long House at 812 S. Ann St. The group recently acquired a one-story building at 808 S. Ann St. that will become a visitors' orientation center for the historic district and it wants to create a maritime history center as well.

Mrs. Fisher's house is a key to the society's expansion plans because it backs up to the Ann Street properties and will provide a new front door facing the harbor.

"We are overjoyed with her gift," said Executive Director Romaine Somerville. "It is the single finest historic waterfront property in Baltimore."

Dating from around 1800, the late Federal building is constructed of pink brick set in Flemish bond with a fine molded brick cornice. It is typical of a wealthy merchant's home of that period, with a shop on the ground floor and living quarters above.

Mrs. Fisher, a Ruxton resident whose activism is widely credited as the critical force that saved Fells Point and Federal Hill, said she decided to donate her building because she was encouraged by the society's recent research into the city's maritime heritage.

"The more I learned about what they're doing, I realized there TC was more reason for saving this area than just the architecture and the ambience of the waterfront," she said. "It's the tremendously important shipbuilding background."

A Pittsburgh native who is known as "Lu," Mrs. Fisher moved to Maryland around World War II when she married a Baltimore doctor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, A. Murray Fisher.

She explained that her involvement with Fells Point began in the 1960s, when she bought the Thames Street building with her brother as a restoration project, for what she thought was a bargain price. Only after the sales contract was signed, she said, did she find out it was likely to be condemned to make way for the highway.

The proposed road would have sliced through sections of

Federal Hill and Fells Point, and cut the downtown business district off from the harbor. It was to have been joined by a hideous elevated bridge over the Inner Harbor.

Others told Mrs. Fisher that fighting the plan would be futile. But she did anyway, assembling advocates and forming a preservation society. Other early members of the group included Judge Thomas Ward, Robert Eney, Richard Gatchell, Roland Read, and the Dashiell sisters -- Eleanor and Mary Leake.

As part of their campaign, the preservationists surveyed buildings in Federal Hill and Fells Point and had both areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then they sued the federal government for funding an interstate highway through a designated historic district.

As more people learned about the road, opposition grew. So did the cost of construction. Eleven years after the condemnation ordinance was signed, the City Council rescinded it, and federal highway planners rerouted the expressway around and under the harbor. By taking action, the preservationists saved not only Fells Point and Federal Hill but the Inner Harbor as well.

Mrs. Fisher said she hopes the maritime center will tell the complete Fells Point story, not just recount the fight against the road. Part of any presentation will surely be the message that one person can make a difference -- the way Mrs. Fisher did.

Howard Street festival

On Saturday afternoon, Baltimore will hold the Howard Street "Avenue of the Arts" Festival at Howard and Centre streets.

The Maryland Historical Society will hold a "garage door opening" to mark the beginning of its conversion of the old Greyhound bus garage to a Maryland history center.

On Monday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will rename Howard Street "The Avenue of the Arts."

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