Imperiled buildings have friends Canton: Residents are concerned that at least one building in the old American Can Co. complex will be demolished as a shopping and office center is developed.

Urban Landscape

July 25, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

FOR CANTON residents anxious to see their neighborhood prosper, the community meeting at Weber's on Boston should have been the happiest of occasions.

Representatives of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse said they wanted to transform the vacant American Can Co. property on Boston Street into a $10 million shopping and office center filled with upscale tenants such as a Bibelot book and music store and a Donna's Coffee Bar.

Yet the announcement drew a mixed reaction from the crowd gathered for the project kickoff.

That's because the developers also disclosed that a prominent section of the multibuilding complex -- a 1902 structure that was earmarked for preservation 10 years ago -- is likely to be torn down before work begins.

City housing officials issued a demolition permit last week for the three-story brick building at Lakewood Avenue and Boston after inspectors declared it structurally unsound.

Now area preservationists are concerned that it might not be the only building to disappear.

"The one thing about these buildings that can never be replaced is their history," said Nelson Adlin, a member of the Waterfront Coalition and the Fells Point Business Association. "It's like a tooth. Once it's gone, it's gone forever." East Baltimore resident Carolyn Boitnott urged the developers to save at least part of the 1902 structure, which anchors the eastern end of the American Can complex and features fine brickwork. "I'm very fond of that building," she said. "I'd still like to see more research done before it comes down."

Such expressions of concern hint at the challenge Struever Bros. faces as it attempts to win community support for its plan.

The 4.3-acre site is bounded by Boston and Hudson streets and Lakewood. Struever Bros. has an option to buy it from American National Can Co., which closed the plant in the mid-1980s and has let it deteriorate. Struever wants to buy the property by the end of the year and begin construction early next year.

At last week's meeting, some residents said they were eager to see the American Can site developed even if part of the old cannery has to come down.

"I can't see waiting 10 more years to get something built. Better to save a part of it than to save nothing," said Diana Marianos of the 600 block of S. Montford Ave., where she also has a beauty salon.

Many others believe the developers should not be so quick to discard what is left of the area's industrial past.

Ten years ago, they successfully fought developer Michael Swerdlow, who wanted to clear the site to make way for two high-rises. From that battle, the community identified four buildings worthy of preservation: the 1924 "signature building" at Boston and Hudson streets; a 1913 building visible from Hudson; an 1895 building in the center of the property; and the 1902 building at Boston and Lakewood.

Last week, developer C. William Struever said he approached the project with the goal of saving as many buildings on the site as is economically feasible. He said he definitely intended to preserve the 1924 building -- where Bibelot and Donna's would be -- and the 1895 building, with its pronounced parapet.

But he said the 1902 building was likely to come down because it was condemned by the city recently after inspectors observed that the southwest wall was about to collapse and that interior columns are missing. "It's past the point of no return," Struever said. "We're convinced it has to come down."

Struever Vice President Mark Shapiro said the building could be reconstructed if price were no object. But the developers said they have other issues to consider, such as the need for surface parking.

"To some extent," Struever said, "the more buildings you save, the less parking space you have."

Struever and Shapiro say American National Can ultimately must decide whether to proceed with demolition of the 1902 building, since it still owns the property. In the meantime, they said, they want to meet regularly with neighborhood representatives to arrive at a plan the community will support.

More than any other company in town, Struever Bros. has a solid record of adapting old buildings for new uses. From Brown's Arcade on Charles Street to Mill Centre off Falls Road to Tindeco Wharf and Canton Cove in Canton, it has been responsible for some of the most impressive renovation projects in the region.

That makes the preservationists all the more disheartened when they hear Struever and his associates say they might not be able to save all of the American Can buildings that have been deemed worthy of preservation. If they can't do it, who can?

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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