Angelos won't buy Masonic Temple He terminates deal over parking lease

November 14, 1997|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

After weeks of wrangling over architectural preservation and pillaged antique fixtures, the deal to sell the downtown Masonic Temple has collapsed over a far more prosaic issue: who controls the parking lot.

Lawyer and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos said in a statement yesterday that he'd terminated his purchase contract with the Masons, a secretive fraternal organization, because "it has become impossible for the seller to deliver both the building and the adjacent parking lot. We cannot proceed without the parking lot, which was really the focus of the deal."

Angelos had agreed April 1 to buy the building and its 115-space lot at 221-229 and 210 N. Charles St. for $2.2 million. But since then, he said, the Masons have refused to terminate their lease of the parking lot with Allright Baltimore Inc., an agreement that extends until Jan. 31, 2001.

Angelos was already upset by a June 23 "attic sale" held by the Masons about 80 days after the sales contract was signed. They sold hundreds of the building's antique chandeliers, sconces, bookcases, doorways and other fixtures to local antique dealers, sometimes tearing the items from walls and ceilings.

According to some people present that day, the Masons made $30,000 to $40,000 at the sale. Some of the buyers then resold items before Angelos heard about the sale, and he demanded that everything be restored to its proper place.

He backed up the demand with a lawsuit and a request for a court order to prevent further transactions. The Masons then began buying back as much as they could, in some cases paying up to three times their selling price, according to one antiques dealer, who estimated they'd recovered about 80 percent of the fixtures.

No issue other than the parking lot was mentioned in yesterday's announcement from Angelos' office.

The deal's collapse will likely mean renewed anxiety for architectural preservationists, who were counting on Angelos to keep the building at 223-25 N. Charles St. intact along with its 10 large and elaborately appointed meeting rooms, once used for Masonic ceremonies and rituals.

But, for the moment, the big loser is the Masons, who'd spent the past several weeks tracking down and re-purchasing many of the hundreds of items they'd sold, and apparently losing money in the process.

Masonic officials would not comment on the sale, their subsequent efforts or yesterday's announcement from Angelos. Their attorney, Leonard Cohen, also declined to comment.

Other potential buyers may already be on the horizon, however, thanks in part to the interest generated by the sale of the fixtures.

Ted Tsavaras, co-owner of Great Gatsby Auctioneers in Atlanta, said in a recent telephone interview that he was preparing an offer. He became interested after buying several benches from the building from a Baltimore auctioneer, and he recently toured the place.

"It's a fantabulous building," he said. "I've told the Masons that if the Angelos deal falls through, then we'll buy it."

He said he planned to offer more than Angelos' purchase price of $2.2 million, albeit less than the Masons' original asking price of $2.9 million. "But now they're saying they want more than $3 million," he said.

Built in 1869 and restored after fires in 1890 and 1908, the building's treasures 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.

It was a meeting hall for Masons until 1994, when lodge members opened an activities building in Cockeysville. They put the building up for sale along with its parking lot in 1995.

Angelos was an early bidder, but he was superseded by Allright, one of the area's largest parking lot operators, when that company purchased a legal option to buy. Allright still held its option when the Masons and Angelos signed their sale contract on April 1, and not until mid-September did Allright decide not to exercise its option. Allright did, however, choose to retain its lease on the parking lot, although Angelos maintained yesterday that the Masons had the right to terminate the lease.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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