Posh offices saved Style: Towson's landmark French chateau, with its topiary, gazebo and fountains, might have become just another high-rise.

March 07, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

The former owner's Rolls Royce is gone. The authentic Imperial Palace wallpaper from China has been stripped off the walls. And the psychedelic-yellow 1970s kitchen has been torn out.

But Towson's most unusual office building, with its elaborate, walled "secret garden," will remain standing instead of being razed as area workers and residents had feared.

When the building on tree-lined Baltimore Avenue went on the market 1 1/2 years ago, many worried that the landmark French-chateau-styled structure would be destroyed to make room for another high-rise cluttering the business district's skyline.

Enter Robert M. Evans, president of Middleton Press Inc., who was looking for a new location for his art-books publishing company, which features the works of his photographer son, Middleton Evans.

"I was curious to see what was there," said Evans, who read about the property's availability in The Sun. "The place was kind of run down. But I thought, 'This place has all kinds of potential.' "

An affable businessman who, at 64, presents a polished figure in pristine white shirt, elegant black vest and bright yellow tie, Evans calls the one-floor suite of three offices that he bought last month a "party house."

He is sprucing up the place with antiques, new furniture, paint and wallpaper to create a space in which he can entertain friends and colleagues -- unlike Thomas Garland Tinsley, the building's eccentric, reclusive millionaire owner who died almost three years ago at age 90 and rarely had guests.

"It was perfect for me -- and in the process I could save it," said Evans, who lives near Towson. "I'm having fun with the building."

Nowadays, Evans handles most of the business of his tiny, four-person publishing company in the 28-by-18-foot main room, which has gleaming parquet floors, a three-tiered brass chandelier and two luxurious Oriental rugs.

Add the glass-walled view of the dormant garden, waiting to burst into springtime glory, and the intricately carved mantel over the now gas-fired fireplace that Tinsley never used, and it's easy to understand Evans' enthusiasm.

"It's so nice to see someone who appreciates it and will improve it," said Fred Hearn, senior vice president of MacKenzie/O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Commercial Real Estate Services, which sold the estate property.

The 2,000-square-foot office building with the 18,000-square-foot garden, built by Tinsley in 1974, sold for $700,000, according to the deed filed in the county land records department.

Evans has agreed to follow a Tinsley tradition and open the formal, English garden to the public during Towson Gardens Day on April 24. Visitors will be able to view the distinctive topiary, Corinthian gazebo, flowering shrubs, magnolia trees and two glorious 7-foot fountains in the reflecting pool.

Gardens Day deadline

"I've got to be ready for Gardens Day," Evans said of the festival, sponsored by the Towson Development Corp. "The whole place needs a haircut."

The decision is just what the event's planners were hoping to hear.

"We were keeping our fingers crossed something delightful like this would happen," said Les Graef, a longtime coordinator of Towson's annual celebration of spring. "We're very fortunate to have an owner who's going to have as much passion as Mr. Tinsley."

While Tinsley may have appreciated his solitude, he lavished great attention on the garden he created.

"[He] was very generous opening the place for the day," Graef said. "He loved beauty and had a strong appreciation for things aesthetic."

Evans, with the help of his wife, Anne, who handles the company's marketing, and assistant Judie Deakins, is well on the way to meeting an April 1 deadline he's set for the make-over.

Workers are power-washing the 12-foot walls. Painters are coating the building's exterior with a soft, putty color and covering the once electric-blue double-front doors and fleur-de-lis accents with dignified black.

A new navy awning piped in beige will shade the flagstone terrace, replacing the weather-worn green canvas one.

Rich color scheme

Inside, a rich color scheme of maroon, ivory, forest green and navy is turning the space into a decorator's showcase. A pale-pink ceramic floor sets the tone for the refurbished full kitchen with off-white cabinets and cranberry counters. Turquoise bathrooms have been updated and toned down.

Evans -- who last year sold another company, DP/Associates Inc., a computer services business -- acknowledges the new location serves a dual purpose.

"I view this office as half retirement office and half business. I look forward to coming here every day," he said, sitting in a plush black leather chair behind a big walnut desk. "It's exciting to have this property."

Business leaders agree.

"Middleton Press is a nice addition to downtown Towson," said attorney Edward J. Gilliss, president of the Towson Partnership, a civic group that has put together a land-use map for the county seat. "For [the property] to remain a one-story structure with a classic garden is a benefit to the community."

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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