Plan for razing is raising doubts Development: The Maryland Historical Trust has asked the University of Maryland at Baltimore to reconsider its plan to demolish three historically significant buildings.

Urban Landscape

June 20, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland at Baltimore, which has drawn praise in the past for its efforts to preserve and recycle old buildings on campus, is drawing criticism this year for a plan to raze three historically significant structures to make way for development.

University officials notified the Maryland Historical Trust in April that they want to tear down the state-owned buildings at 513, 515 and 517 W. Lombard St. They have since begun to empty the buildings in preparation for demolition.

The trust, a state agency that monitors state-owned properties with historical significance, has asked the university to reconsider its plans. In a letter sent to the university last month, J. Rodney Little, a trust director, said 517 W. Lombard should be spared and that the university should preserve at least the facades of the other two.

Leaders of Baltimore Heritage Inc., a preservation advocacy group that has praised the university for its efforts to adapt old buildings to new uses, want all three buildings saved.

"I hate the idea of keeping just the facades," said David H. Gleason, chairman of Baltimore Heritage's preservation planning committee. "So much of that whole area has been lost already. This is the last vestige of what was once a great 19th-century Baltimore neighborhood. "All three buildings should be saved in their entirety. It's important to keep the total context."

The endangered buildings are the three-story Elias Shaw House, erected in 1835 at 513 W. Lombard and expanded in late 1840s; the three-story Virginia Peanut Co. building, built in 1906 at 515 W. Lombard; and the four-story Resinol Chemical Co. building at 517 W. Lombard, which dates from 1904.

Together with the five-story Turner-White building at 511 W. Lombard, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is not endangered, the three make up "a relatively unaltered grouping of commercial/manufacturing buildings from the mid-19th century through the early 20th century," Little wrote in his May 22 letter to the university.

Used until recently for storage and offices, the buildings "are reflective of the commercial and industrial success that Baltimore enjoyed at the turn of the century and of the manufacturing character of that section of the city at the time," Little said.

The most noteworthy is the Resinol building, whose front contains cast iron and whose interior has not been substantially altered since it opened. It originally housed a pharmaceutical company founded by Merville Carter, a Baltimore physician who perfected a medicinal ointment and soap called Resinol. The company was acquired by the Metholatum Co. of New Jersey.

The buildings' importance is enhanced, Little said, by their location directly across Lombard Street from Davidge Hall, the university's oldest building, and near the city's Loft District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Little said his office's opinion of the buildings' significance has been confirmed by Baltimore's preservation commission and by the university's own preservation consultants, who recommended that they be retained and reused.

He said the trust would particularly like to see the Resinol building retained because it "has strong historical ties to the university" and could "readily be converted to modern office use."

If necessary, "we would be willing to consider new construction at 513 and 515 W. Lombard Street but strongly recommend that at least the facades of these two buildings be retained," he said in his letter to the university.

John Hachtel, a university spokesman, referred questions about the buildings to Angela Fowler-Young, assistant director for planning, and Terry Smith, assistant vice president for business and general management. Neither could be reached.

The university has won kudos for restoring a variety of old buildings in recent years, including the former Pine Street police station, Davidge Hall and the former United Decorative Flower Co. building at 701 W. Pratt St. Its building at 31 S. Greene St. has been restored to house the Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, a $5.8 million project that opens tomorrow.

Fred Shoken, a past president of Baltimore Heritage, said he hopes university officials will reconsider their demolition plans. "The university has completed some good preservation projects in the past," he said. "But its campus is a little bit of everything. The Yiddish word would be 'ongelpotchket,' which means cluttered, it doesn't gel. Keeping the old buildings would help tie it together."

Little said the trust is waiting for the university to complete a comprehensive historic preservation plan, which is required of all state campuses. In the meantime, he said, "we would be more than happy to assist the university's architects in developing a design which incorporates the historic buildings."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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