Church may destroy building in historic district Ellicott City structure said to be beyond repair

November 20, 1995|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Treasure in the rough, or century-old eyesore?

That's what members of the Howard County Historic District Commission are trying to decide as they weigh the proposed demolition of a fire-damaged building owned by St. Paul's Church in historic Ellicott City.

Members of the group, which has advisory authority over the demolition in the historic district, visited the 106-year-old building behind the church on St. Paul Street on Wednesday.

"It would probably be the first old building [in the historic district] demolished -- the first one ever, to the best of my knowledge," aside from six buildings that were virtually destroyed in a 1984 fire, said Herbert Johl, commission chairman. Built into the bluff overlooking Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks and hidden by other buildings belonging to the church, the building originally was a parish hall for St. Peter's Episcopal Church, which has relocated in Ellicott City.

St. Peter's burned down in 1939, and the hall was converted into apartments. After a suspected arson in 1982, the building was ordered condemned and boarded up.

The Rev. Thomas Donaghy, the parish priest at St. Paul's since 1991, said his predecessors have been considering the building's demolition ever since that fire.

"Our people have told us that it is not worthwhile to restore it," said Mr. Donaghy, referring to parishioners who are engineers who have examined it.

The church considers the former hall an eyesore and a safety hazard. It had to be boarded up again in spring 1994 to keep out vagrants who had been living there.

"To let it stand until it falls is not responsible," said Doris Thompson, commission member and St. Paul parishioner, who is abstaining from the commission's deliberations because of her ties to the church. "It's not an asset to the property."

The commission, created in 1974 to preserve the architectural heritage of the county's historic districts, can delay for up to 90 days the demolition of buildings deemed of special significance.

It cannot, however, prohibit a property owner from destroying a building.

The question of whether to recommend the demolition came up at the commission's Nov. 2 meeting, but action was postponed until its Dec. 7 meeting for further investigation. Until then, the commission will evaluate the structure of the building and its historical significance to see if it is worth saving.

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