Transformation of a bus garage Museum: The old Greyhound facility in Mount Vernon has been renovated into an exhibit space by the Maryland Historical Society. The first show opens in May.

Urban Landscape

February 20, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN A HEAVY snowstorm caused the roof of the old Greyhound bus garage in Mount Vernon to collapse four years ago this week, redevelopment officials in Baltimore might have made a case for knocking down the rest of the building and

turning the property into a parking lot.

Instead, they committed funds to stabilize the bulging north wall and reconstruct the vaulted timber roof so the empty garage could be put to a new use.

As a result of their decision to salvage rather than scrap, the Mount Vernon historic district has one less gaping hole in the streetscape. It also has a new asset that complements Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's goal of turning the Howard Street corridor into Baltimore's "Avenue of the Arts."

After a $2.3 million renovation, the garage has become one of the largest climate-controlled exhibit spaces in the state, with 18,000 square feet under one roof, according to Dennis Fiori, executive director of the Maryland Historical Society.

The historical society began renovating the old bus maintenance garage in October 1995 as the first phase of a $10 million to $20 million expansion of its campus in the block bounded by Monument, Howard and Centre streets and Park Avenue. Work was finished last month, with Grieves, Worrall, Wright & O'Hatnick as the architect and Roy Kirby & Sons as the general contractor.

The Schmoke administration turned over control of the then-city-owned garage to the historical society in October 1994 -- 20 months after the roof collapsed Feb. 21, 1993.

As a result of the improvements, the old garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street has been transformed into a display space capable of accommodating a wide range of exhibits, with a large window facing Park Avenue.

A new concrete floor was poured over the old one, which was not level, and new wooden trusses hold up the reconstructed roof. The trusses and metal ducts are visible from the space below, which is kept at 70 degrees. Besides the display area, the building contains a security control room, a "clean room" for preparation of artifacts, and other back-of-the-house spaces.

The building will open in stages starting in May, when the historical society unveils an exhibit on Baltimore's bicentennial, "Baltimore Inc.: From Mobtown to Charm City."

Tracing the major themes of Baltimore's development from its founding to the present, Baltimore Inc. will run through Jan. 4. It will be the first to occupy a 6,000-square-foot area designated for changing exhibits.

Fiori said the society hopes to open a second exhibit area by fall, to show textiles from the permanent collection. A third exhibit area is tentatively scheduled to open in spring 1998, and initially it will feature objects from the society's Radcliffe Maritime Museum. This third area will become the setting for an introductory exhibit surveying 300 years of Maryland history.

With the first phase of the expansion complete, the historical society has a new challenge: figuring out how to make the renovated garage a more integral part of the complex by linking it to the buildings along Monument Street.

Its building committee recently selected Ziger/Snead and Charles Brickbauer to serve as architect for the link and subsequent phases of the expansion. Others under consideration were: the Grieves office; Ayers Saint Gross; and Cho, Wilks & Benn. John Klink, an exhibit designer with the Walters Art Gallery, is designing the exhibits for Baltimore Inc. Local artists will paint eight murals, each depicting objects from the society's collection, to display in the garage's former window openings.

Fiori said the building committee has been pleased with the Grieves firm's work inside the Greyhound building and elsewhere. "They did a good job of master planning for us."

But he said the committee members were looking for fresh ideas for the next phases of the expansion and came away most impressed with Ziger/Snead's suggestions for creating a tower that would accentuate the link, rather than downplay it.

"It's a difficult situation, because we have a variety of buildings that have to be pulled together so they have a real sense of place," he said. "Our feeling was that they have an exciting approach to a challenging site."

This will be the second time Ziger/Snead has worked with the Greyhound garage. In 1991, it helped transform the building into a gallery for The Contemporary, a museum-without-walls that presents contemporary art in temporary, often unexpected places. Its installation was instrumental in demonstrating the building's potential as an exhibit space.

The historical society is seeking $1 million from the Maryland General Assembly this year to help fund its expansion. It received $1.7 million from state legislators over the past two years. Fiori said he hopes to have a temporary link finished in time for use during the inaugural exhibit in May.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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