Mount Royal Station turns 100 Preservation: The former pride of the B&O became one of the country's first examples of adaptive reuse when Maryland Institute converted it for art space in the 1960s.

Urban Landscape

August 29, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

MOUNT ROYAL Station, the midtown depot-turned-arts center from which thousands of travelers have begun journeys either in space or time, will pass a milestone of its own this weekend.

On Sunday the building will turn 100 years old, its massive granite walls and soaring clock tower looking much the way they did when constructed.

Last used for train travel in 1961, the station became one of the country's first examples of adaptive reuse several years later, when the Maryland Institute, College of Art converted it to sculpture studios, a library, gallery and lecture hall.

That $600,000 conversion, designed by the Baltimore architecture firm of Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet, helped Mount Royal Station survive when many other train stations were abandoned over the years. It also drew international acclaim for showing how older buildings can be reborn through imaginative redesign.

Architectural Forum magazine said the results were "enough to strike joy in the hearts of preservationists and art lovers alike."

According to Christopher Weeks' 1995 biography of architect Alexander Cochran, anthropologist Margaret Mead said: "This is perhaps the most magnificent example in the Western World of something being made into something else."

When the station opened Sept. 1, 1896, it was the pride of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Co. and a symbol of its power. All trains between Baltimore and New York stopped there.

Designed in an Italian Renaissance style by E. Francis Baldwin and Josias Pennington, it is reminiscent of the Vendramini Palace in Venice. It was unusual in its placement below street level and between two tunnels that carried train traffic through it in a covered shed. Though set in a dell, it doesn't appear sunken or insignificant because its 150-foot-tall clock tower dominates the site.

Inside, the waiting rooms had unusually high ceilings -- 64 feet high at one point. Fireplaces were at each end, and rocking chairs were by the front door.

Cochran said its most important attributes were "its graceful, composed scale and elegance -- in a word, its grandeur. Its high interior concourse gave dignity and importance to all who entered."

After closing the station in 1961, B&O sold it for $250,000 to the Maryland Institute, whose main building was one block away. The institute's president, Eugene Leake, was eager to expand.

Cochran and partner Richard Donkervoet came up with a design that kept as much of the building's detail and grandeur as possible. To increase the amount of interior space, they inserted a second floor above the vaulted waiting room. But they kept the massive columns, metal ceilings, mosaic marble floors and decorative ironwork, and used glass partitions to preserve a feeling of openness.

When the station reopened in 1967, its exterior was unchanged except that the rear waiting platform and baggage room were enclosed to create space for a sculpture studio. During the 1980s, the college repaired the train shed and restored the clock.

Today, the station is the southern anchor for the campus and centerpiece of the Mount Royal cultural district. And it's about to be reborn again.

By late 1997, the college will move its library to 1401 Mount Royal Ave. A move is necessary, administrators say, because the library must expand and floor loads inside the station can't support more weight.

The college will use the former library space to house its fiber department and its interior architecture and design department. Ziger/Snead Architects is the master planner for the campus reorganization, which will bring under one roof three programs involving three-dimensional design.

Even before that work begins, the station's place in Baltimore history is secure -- as a result of the conversion that extended its life in the 1960s. The college's decision to acquire the station was a key to giving it more visibility and better teaching spaces.

"It's an important link between the institute and other cultural institutions in the Mount Royal area," said college President Fred Lazarus IV. "That building and others we've acquired since then have given us wonderful, eclectic spaces to make art in."

Howard Street design competition

The Baltimore Architecture Foundation is sponsoring a design competition to generate ideas for revitalizing the Howard Street corridor. The foundation's Baltimore Young Architects Committee has set Dec. 4 as the deadline for eligible architects, artists and landscape architects to submit designs for four Howard Street parcels. Entries will be exhibited from Dec. 28 to Feb. 22 at Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. For more information, call 625-2585.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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