GIVEN ALL the building demolition in Baltimore these days, it's something of a miracle that the former Greyhound bus garage survived the wrecking ball. But survive it did, and yesterday it opened as the setting for the Maryland Historical Society's Heritage Gallery, home of the bicentennial exhibit "Baltimore Inc."
The 6,000-square-foot gallery is the first phase of a renovation of the 1941 bus garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street, a companion to the former Greyhound bus station at Howard and Centre streets.
Its $2.3 million conversion to a museum annex is a preservation success story that took a number of twists and turns before reaching its happy conclusion.
It represents a particularly proud moment for Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, a local preservationist who worked tirelessly to save the bus station and garage. But many others also were influential.
Shapiro used a number of tactics to make sure the two-building complex wouldn't be forgotten after Greyhound Corp. moved out and sold it to the city in the 1980s.
She called city officials weekly to make sure the buildings were kept in good repair and free of trash and weeds. She even held a news conference there, with her own greyhound, Hannah, to call attention to the building's plight.
"I was just trying to keep a dialogue going -- with whoever would listen," she said this week. "Some people thought I had completely lost my mind. But if I hadn't stood up for them, the Greyhound station and garage wouldn't be there today."
Shapiro said she was grateful to Al Copp, former president of the Center City-Inner Harbor Development Corp., for heading the city's effort to find users for both buildings. She said Copp was always responsive to her when she called and did much to protect the Greyhound garage.
She also credits Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association for adding the buildings to the historic district and working to safeguard them.
Prospects for the block picked up in the early 1990s, when the bus station was converted to offices by developer Elinor Bacon.
The garage got some welcome exposure in 1991, when the city allowed it to be used as a temporary exhibit space for the Contemporary, a local museum that mounts exhibits in unconventional spaces.
The decision to use the Greyhound garage, which was made by museum directors George Ciscle and Lisa Corrin, and the interior design by architect Steve Ziger were instrumental in showing the building's potential.
"That was a turning point," Shapiro said. "After that, there was a lot more interest in it."
When a 1993 snowstorm caused part of the garage's timber roof to collapse, Daniel P. Henson III, the city housing commissioner, decided it was worth saving rather than scrapping, and his agency hired contractors to make repairs.
In 1995, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke donated it to the Historical Society as part of his Avenue of the Arts campaign.
The society moved quickly to renovate the garage, with Grieves Worrall Wright and O'Hatnick as the restoration architect. The Heritage Gallery space was designed by John Klink, an exhibit designer with the Walters Art Gallery.
The lesson of this chronology is that preservation doesn't happen by itself. It is usually the result of a concerted effort by many people who work quietly behind the scenes and receive little or no credit -- but deserve plenty.
At a preview last week, Dennis Fiori, Historical Society executive director, said he hadn't initially expected to open any part of the building for several years, but that others at the Historical Society prompted him to move faster when they saw the space.
With 18,000 square feet under one roof, "it is one of the finest museum spaces in the state now, and we are very privileged to have it," Fiori said.
Shapiro said she, too, was pleased that it turned out this way. She particularly likes the way the old Greyhound symbol has been salvaged from the Howard Street side of the bus station and erected atop the garage.
"Over the years, I've been involved in a lot of efforts that seemed far-fetched, like saving the Camden Yards warehouse," she said. "But a bus garage? It seemed hopeless. I think that's why people don't get involved in preservation, because they think it's a hopeless cause.
"When I die and someone writes my obituary," she added, "they need only mention two buildings: the [now razed] McCormick spice factory and the Greyhound complex. These are the two biggies in my life. I lost McCormick, but I'll always have Greyhound."
Pub Date: 5/15/97