Fate of historic Owings House grows complex Restaurant idea snags owners' demolition plan

November 10, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Historic Samuel Owings House, once ticketed to be moved from its perch in Owings Mills to make way for an office tower, might be reduced to rubble under the owners' latest plan.

And that proposal, already facing opposition from preservationists, has hit another snag -- two Baltimore restaurateurs plan to open an eating spot in the Colonial-era structure.

"I live in Owings Mills, and if someone told me they were going to take down a building that's 200 years old, I wouldn't believe it," said Henry Pertman, co-owner of Henry & Jeff's, a restaurant on Baltimore's North Charles Street.

Mr. Pertman said he and his partner, Jeff Pressman, have signed a contract to buy the bankrupt Fiori restaurant at Owings House -- assuming the remaining eight years of its lease -- and reopen it as a second Henry & Jeff's.

"It's on a hill. It's majestic," he said of the building, which overlooks the intersection of Painters Mill and Dolfield roads. "Anyone who rides past that building says, 'Wow.' It is its own publicity."

At issue is the fate of the two-story, brick Georgian country home built in 1767 by the mill owner for whom Owings Mills is named. One of about 20 remaining 18th-century homes in Baltimore County, it is owned by Painters Mill Associates (No. 1), a development company that has proposed tearing down the structure to build a nine-story, $20 million office tower at the site.

The house is flanked by a day care center, medical offices and a bank -- a setting that some say has removed its historic flavor.

The pending restaurant deal, which is to be reviewed next week by a U.S. bankruptcy judge, further complicates the historic house's future. The federal court has issued an order freezing Fiori's assets -- a factor that forced the county Landmarks Preservation Commission to postpone last night's scheduled hearing and vote on the demolition plan.

Baltimore County Attorney Virginia W. Barnhart said the commission will take no action until a bankruptcy judge rules on issues involving the pending restaurant sale at a Nov. 17 hearing.

Not that the landmarks panel was expected to approve the plan. "I don't think there's a chance we would vote in favor of demolishing it," said John McGrain, the commission's executive secretary.

Without the landmark commission's endorsement of the demolition proposal, the owners would have to convince County Council members that the structure does not warrant historic status. In June, the commission voted to place the house on its preservation list, but that designation will not become permanent without County Council approval.

The council should not approve that designation because the house was previously considered but rejected for the list, said Julius W. Lichter, an attorney for the building's owners.

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