Warehouse fire upsets plans for museum on immigration Man will try to find new location, raise funds

January 03, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Ron Zimmerman's dream of converting a vacant Locust Point warehouse into a museum honoring European immigrants was derailed this week when the 19th-century building went up in flames in a six-alarm fire.

Mr. Zimmerman, a South Baltimore real estate broker, has been trying for the past few years to persuade CSX Transportation, which owns the building, to donate it for a museum, much like the Ellis Island Museum in New York City.

The warehouse, at 1900 E. Fort Ave. near Fort McHenry, was the last 19th-century building still standing near the site where hundreds of thousands of European immigrants stepped off boats in Baltimore.

The fire Monday night caused the roof and part of the walls of the three-story Baltimore and Ohio railroad warehouse to collapse. The city Fire Department estimated damage at $400,000. The cause of the fire was under investigation yesterday, fire officials said.

"It's a shame that building's gone," Mr. Zimmerman said, adding, "I'm not going to stop. Maybe they can save some of the brick, use it somewhere."

He said he will look for a smaller location and begin raising funds for the museum.

Joshua Waldorf, executive director of Baltimore Bicentennial Celebration Inc., which is planning the city's bicentennial celebration for 1997, said he is interested in helping Mr. Zimmerman with fund-raising efforts.

He said he is talking to Mr. Zimmerman about opening a bicentennial "homecoming center where people could come to look at immigration or ship records to honor the 700,000 people who made Baltimore the second-largest point of immigration" in the United States.

"The idea would be to work with him and help him raise money," Mr. Waldorf said.

Mr. Zimmerman said he had architectural designs for the building that burned, drawn for free by Studio Wanda, a downtown architecture firm.

But he has yet to raise any money for the project.

A $50,000 state grant has gone unspent because Mr. Zimmerman must match it with private funds he does not have.

Despite the uphill battle he faces, Mr. Zimmerman says he is optimistic.

"I think something good is going to come out of the fire. We'll start new. I knew in my heart a lot of doors would have been opened with that building, a lot of history nobody knew," he said.

Kathy Burns, spokeswoman for CSX Transportation, said the warehouse will be demolished because the Fire Department condemned it yesterday. She said the 8.7-acre site will be offered for sale.

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