Artists, merchants see hope through art in restoration of hall above Hollins Market Theater, gallery planned for 160-year-old space

January 02, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Where others see bleakness and rot in the abandoned hall above Hollins Market, the merchants and artists of Southwest Baltimore see hope through art.

They want to restore the historic hall -- with its grand, 40-foot ceiling and 15-foot-tall windows -- into a performing arts center and art gallery with programs for local schoolchildren.

"I like to joke that we'll have everything from bingo to ballet," said Ted Getzel, president of the Southwest Merchants and Artisans Guild and co-owner of Mencken's Cultured Pearl restaurant.

Mr. Getzel has joined other merchants, residents and artists to form Hollins Hall Inc. in a bid to rebuild the hall in a neighborhood where some of the city's most talented artists live among the city's poorest families.

They already have renovation plans for the 5,000-square-foot space in the Union Square Historic District, better known to locals as "SoWeBo" -- short for Southwest Baltimore. Local artists are eager to perform there and work with children at the nearby James McHenry Elementary School.

All the organizers need is $750,000 to rebuild the hall, which hasn't been used in almost 30 years. It served Southwest Baltimore for more than a century as a community hall for political meetings, dances, weddings and recreation.

The hall -- which was built with the market in 1836 at Hollins Street and South Carrollton Avenue -- is the only remaining one of its kind in Baltimore, said Scott Smith, city market director. Other community halls that once operated above city markets were destroyed in fires and never replaced.

The project has brought together an eclectic group of people.

Artist Anthony Corradetti -- who converted the once-abandoned comfort station of the market into his studio six years ago -- could showcase his stunning glasswork there.

The Black Cherry Puppet Theater, which operates its studio in a building across from the market, could find a place to perform its marionette shows in a theater that could hold 500 people.

John A. Howard-Algarin, a city court clerk who neither lives nor works in the neighborhood, is involved because he wants to see the establishment of Baltimore's first multicultural art center, which could bring local students to after-school programs ranging from African dancing to play writing.

A poetry lover, Mr. Howard-Algarin also would love to see the center used for poetry "slams," in which audiences rate poets' work much like Olympic judges.

The idea to convert the old hall into an arts center has been considered in SoWeBo for more than a decade. But only recently has Hollins Hall Inc. been formed to apply to the Internal Revenue Service for nonprofit status and look for funds.

Mr. Getzel has received letters of support from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and the Hollins Hall project was included in the city's proposal for its $100 million federally funded empowerment zone.

But, Mr. Getzel said, SoWeBo leaders recently were disappointed to learn that the empowerment zone budget has no money for Hollins Hall.

They are looking for money to pay someone to write grant proposals to get the project off the ground, he said.

"We want a little energy to cross Martin Luther King Boulevard. We're tired of being left out of everything," Mr. Getzel said.

Anyone interested in working on the Hollins Hall project may call Dorothy Talbot at 332-8262.

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