In the 21 years that the Baltimore Symphony Associates has sponsored tours of decorators' show houses, the group has never featured a residence in or close to downtown Baltimore, and it has never featured a rowhouse.
That will change next year, with the group's selection of a 55-room mansion called Solomon's Corner as the 1998 Symphony Decorators' Show House.
The five-level, 16,000-square-foot dwelling, at 1201 N. Calvert St., is actually two rowhouses combined into one. It has never been on a public house tour.
For the past 19 years, it has been owned and inhabited by the McManus family, which plans to vacate it by early next year to make way for more than 30 design teams that will transform the rooms. The show house will be open from April 19 to May 17, with proceeds benefiting youth programs of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Because the symphony's show houses typically draw 16,000 visitors a year, the selection of Solomon's Corner is seen as a boost for the Midtown-Belvedere area, where the house is, and the nearby Mount Vernon and Mount Royal cultural districts.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to highlight an area that has meant so much to the history of Baltimore," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Five blocks east of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the house is "gorgeous," said Charles Duff, president of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. "This can be for Mount Vernon what the tall ships were to the Inner Harbor."
Susan Hutton, 1998 general chairman of the Show House, said Solomon's Corner appealed to her committee precisely because it was different from any residence featured before. "We liked the whole package," she said. "We liked the house itself and the location and the support we've had from the city and the neighborhood and the cultural organizations in the area."
Hutton noted that the group has featured houses within the city limits before and felt it would be good to select a house close to the Meyerhoff. "We decided it was the right thing to do to support our orchestra. This is the neighborhood of the orchestra."
The residence was built in 1877 by Solomon Corner. It was considered a country home at the time, and its entrance faced Biddle Street.
In 1893, the mansion was purchased by Robert Brent Keyser, an investor in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and owner of the Baltimore Copper Smelting and Rolling Co. In 1907, Keyser purchased the house at 1203 N. Calvert St. and combined it with 1201. In the process, he moved the entrance from Biddle Street to Calvert Street and clad the house in white marble.
After Keyser's death in 1927, the house was converted to doctors' offices. In 1978, it was acquired by David McManus, a publisher who made it his residence and the headquarters for his business, Helicon Press.
Although McManus died in 1981, his family has continued to live there and has worked to restore it to its original grandeur. Last summer, it was the setting for a Democratic National Committee fund raiser attended by Vice President Al Gore.
Maureen McManus, a family member who lives in the mansion, said she is pleased it will be the Decorators' Show House. "It's a vote for the city," she said. "It will mean more people walking in the neighborhood and going to the restaurants and cultural attractions nearby, the way they should."
Still arranged for single-family occupancy, the house contains one of the oldest residential elevators in the city, a sweeping spiral staircase, a grand reception hall with concert hall-caliber acoustics, 12 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and 11 fireplaces.
McManus said the house is available because family members have been "moving in different directions" and decided this year to put it up for sale. It has been listed for $395,000 through Herbert Davis Associates.
Monday and Tuesday, the Show House committee will give prospective designers a chance to tour the mansion and decide whether they want to participate. Designers will be selected based on the proposals they submit.
Victorians on tour
Seven buildings that date from the middle of the 19th century will be open Saturday on a guided tour entitled "Baltimore Architecture in the 1850s: The First Victorian Decade." Stops include the Evergreen House, Noyes House, 700 and 702 Cathedral St., the Mount Vernon Club, Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church and the First and Franklin Presbyterian Church.
The tour starts at 1 p.m. at Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St., and is sponsored by Evergreen House and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. The cost is $30 for foundation and Evergreen members, and $35 for others. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 410-516-0341.
Pub Date: 10/30/97