Oregon Ridge Store renovation debated Collapsed wall, removed fixtures at county building concern preservationists

November 25, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Another Baltimore County historic landmark has come under scrutiny, this time after a side wall collapsed and fixtures were removed during the recent renovation of the former Oregon Ridge Store in Hunt Valley.

Members of the Baltimore County Historical Trust and the county Landmarks Preservation Commission are watching closely as the county-owned property is being turned into a 175-seat upscale restaurant with additional outdoor seating for 120.

Of particular concern is the removal of interior items that some members of the preservation groups say belong to the county, along with the building.

"It is a resource our county owns. We all do," said Lauri Fitzgerald, past chairman of the Historical Trust, at a meeting last week. "We are completely for a restaurant in the building. But it has to be done right."

The county attorney's office also is examining the lease as questions are raised about ownership of the furnishings in the 147-year-old stone building at Beaver Dam and Shawan roads, west of Interstate 83.

The lessee, Ted Bauer, owner of the Mount Washington Tavern, claims he owns the fixtures, which include original cabinets and doors.

He also maintains he is not doing anything to destroy the historical integrity of the building.

"The building will be in better shape than it ever was," Bauer said. "I've got too much at stake here to put in a McDonald's."

Added architect William Baukhages: "We're not trying to destroy anything. We had no intention of throwing anything away."

The items have been stored in a trailer at the site. But Bauer is noncommittal on whether he will use the fixtures in the new restaurant, to be called Oregon Grille.

In response, the Landmarks Commission, as a county advisory agency, has asked him for an inventory of the items.

"No one knows what was in there and where it's gone," said George A. Klunk Jr., capital projects manager of the county Department of Recreation and Parks that oversees the building, part of the 557-acre Oregon Ridge Park the county bought in 1969.

But some wonder if the county is partly responsible for the controversy.

"It's typical of Baltimore County's inattention to the preservation of its historic buildings," said John C. Bernstein, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, which supports the restaurant concept.

In the past year, the county has come under fire for the fate of several county historic properties, including the destruction of the 1767 Samuel Owings house in Owings Mills and the deterioration of the 1868 Aigburth Vale mansion in Towson.

The Oregon building dates to 1849, when it was built as part of Oregon Furnace Works, later known as Ashland Iron Co. It became the company store, selling goods to the workers.

"It's part of the social fabric of a company town," said county historian John W. McGrain of the building's importance.

Preservationists became involved in the recent renovation when the east wall of the building caved in Oct. 17. Jeffrey Lees, an architect for the Landmarks Commission, is monitoring the exterior restoration.

"My role is to make sure they put it back together so it looks like it did when they started," he said.

Baukhages said the collapsed wall was the result of a decomposed wall below the foundation that caused a chain reaction.

"Nothing was done untoward to make that happen," he said. "If there was a problem, it would have occurred all the way around [the perimeter]."

Baukhages also worked on a restoration of the Oregon store in 1986 when developer Martin P. Azola Jr. turned the building into a complex with a frame shop, a gift boutique and a hair salon.

By spring 1993, for various reasons, the businesses had moved out of the building, leaving it empty until Bauer's project began in the summer.

In 1994, Bauer took over Azola's 25-year lease for $5,000 a year in exchange for restoration and has options that could extend the agreement to 2034.

He said he has put millions of dollars into the renovation of the restaurant, which is expected to open March 1, but he declined to give a specific figure.

"I've gone through hoops to get this project done," Bauer said. "It will be a first-class restaurant -- and an added feature to the community."

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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