A new life for an old mill Mill to marketplace: The Mount Washington Mill, which dates from 1811, is taking shape as an upscale shopping center.

Urban Landscape

February 01, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN HE BOUGHT the old Mount Washington Mill property in 1989, developer Sam Himmelrich Jr. hoped to transform it into a bustling office and shopping center within a few years.

Then the real estate recession hit, and tenants never materialized.

But judging from the flurry of construction activity visible on the property, 1996 is the year Mount Washington Mill finally will take shape as the upscale marketplace it was envisioned as -- a 1990s version of Baltimore's Village of Cross Keys.

Work is well under way on converting the old weave shed into the first Baltimore branch of Fresh Fields, a Rockville-based chain of natural foods supermarkets.

Nationally prominent retailers have signed leases to occupy two more of the historic mill buildings.

Starbuck's, a gourmet coffee chain, will open a branch inside the mid-19th century boiler house close to the grocery store.

Nearby, the old dye house will be recycled to contain the first area branch of Smith & Hawken, a California-based retailer that specializes in high-end gardening supplies and equipment, plants and flowers.

All three tenants are expected to open by early May. They will occupy most of the retail space available at the property, which is the oldest surviving cotton mill in Maryland and one of the oldest in the country. Upper-level space is still available for office tenants.

"We really expected to complete it in a couple of years," Mr. Himmelrich said after a recent tour of the construction site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"But I think it's indicative of the way the world has changed. In the 1980s, people were much more optimistic" about finding tenants.

Despite the delays in construction, the nature of the project has not changed much, he said. "It's staggeringly similar to what we proposed," he said.

Situated at 1330 to 1340 Smith Ave. in the Jones Falls Valley, the mill dates back to 1811 and was known as the Mount Washington Mill and as the Washington Cotton Factory. In 1916, it became home to the Maryland Bolt and Nut Co., which closed several years ago.

What makes Mount Washington Mill different from other office and retail complexes on the market is the all-out effort made by the developer to recycle the historic mill buildings in an effort to give his development a distinctive character.

The supermarket is being constructed almost entirely within the weave shed, which dates from the turn of the century and later became the forge building of the bolt and nut company. Natural light will filter down on the shoppers through clerestory windows added in the 1930s.

On the north end of the shed, a glass-enclosed opening is being created to serve as the main entrance. Steel girders from inside the building form a canopy, and corrugated metal panels will be installed at street level to echo the metal skin surrounding the top portion of the long brick shed.

Smith & Hawken plans to keep the weathered-looking walls and ceiling of the dye house, down to the peeling paint, as part of its ambience.

Because the store sells living plants and will be partly outdoors, retaining the patina will not violate any local building codes, Mr. Himmelrich said.

To get to the store and an adjacent nursery, shoppers will cross a small moat that marks the mill's old tailrace, which channeled the water after it went through the mill's water wheel.

Starbuck's has modified its standard design to fit the mill setting. The interior will feature industrial materials such as scored concrete floors and more of the corrugated metal, called Galvalume, that will be on the exterior of the supermarket.

"I think it's good to have the tenants' designs playing off each other," Mr. Himmelrich said. "It helps create a strong sense of place."

Great Fire Ball Feb. 10

The second annual Great Fire Ball, which will commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the Baltimore Fire of 1904, will be held at the Garrett-Jacobs mansion, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 10.

Proceeds from the black-tie gala will be used to restore the mansion, headquarters of the Engineering Society of Baltimore.

Tickets are $90 per person, of which $50 is tax-deductible. For more information, call the society at 539-6914.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.