Angelos group weighs purchase, preservation of Charles St. landmark School for the Arts is possible tenant

October 08, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's historic Masonic Temple might soon belong to local attorney and Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos, who intends to preserve it for new occupants -- possibly an expansion of Baltimore's School for the Arts.

Angelos confirmed yesterday that he heads a group that has a contract to buy the seven-story building at 223-225 N. Charles St., formally known as the Grand Lodge of Maryland, and an adjacent parking lot. The purchase price is $2.2 million.

"At this juncture, the chances are very, very strong that we'll complete the purchase," he said.

"Our plan is to see that it's preserved. We have no intent to consider any changes to the building that would alter any of its unique character, internally or externally. It's a gem of a building, and we want to make it sparkle again."

Angelos recently bought and moved his law offices into One Charles Center, an office tower half a block south of the Masonic Temple, and has been exploring additional ways to revitalize Charles Center. He also plans to redevelop the vacant Hamburger's clothing store property at Charles and Fayette streets.

Dating from 1869, the Masonic Temple is one of Charles Street's architectural treasures. It was a meeting hall for Masons until 1994, when lodge members opened an "activities building" in Cockeysville. The building has been for sale since 1995, with the 115-space parking lot.

Angelos is halfway through a study period that gives him 60 days to decide whether to proceed with the acquisition.

He said he hopes to make the Masonic Temple parking lot available for occupants of One Charles Center and then lease the building to a tenant that would not need to build partitions or otherwise subdivide its ornate meeting rooms.

Restored after fires in 1890 and 1908, the Charles Street building contains 10 large meeting rooms, each in a different style. Used for Masonic rituals, they include a Roman Room with a marble floor and coffered ceiling, a Tudor Gothic room modeled on Edinburgh's Roslyn Chapel, and a hall that recalls an Egyptian temple.

The building also has two large kitchens, banquet and reception halls, a marble staircase, stained-glass windows and rococo chandeliers. One possible occupant is the School for the Arts, which is based in the old Alcazar Hotel at Cathedral and Madison streets.

Offering courses in dance, music, theater and the visual arts, it's open to students in grades nine to 12, with an after-school program for grades five to eight. Administrators have been studying the idea of expanding the curriculum to include lower grade levels.

Stanley Romanstein, director of the school, and Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the city school system, said the Masonic Temple is one of many buildings that have been proposed as possible expansion sites for the school.

Romanstein emphasized that the school is not likely to move from its present base. "We're very, very happy in our Mount Vernon home," he said. "We like being in the cultural district."

But when someone suggests that a building is worth considering as a possible expansion site, he said, the staff will investigate it. He said he toured the Masonic Temple recently and was impressed. "It's a beautiful space," he said. "We're having conversations now with our department heads to see if it would be usable for us."

Others who have expressed interest in the Charles Street landmark include Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, on the same block, and the Johns Hopkins University, whose Downtown Center is across Charles Street.

Angelos said his decision on whether to acquire the Masonic Temple is not contingent on a commitment from the School for the Arts or any other user.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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