Annapolis mourns the irreplaceable History: Fire in the heart of the state capital destroyed something that can be remembered, but not replaced.

A Sad Day In The Capital

December 11, 1997|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

A city that treats buildings like family members mourned the loss of two old friends yesterday.

The night before, a five-alarm fire destroyed two buildings that contained five addresses and more than a century of Annapolis history.

"Fortunately, we're only mourning the buildings," said Ann Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. "No one was injured, and we're grateful for that. But people in Annapolis take their buildings very seriously."

As firefighters combed through the rubble and structural engineers checked the damage, the smell of day-old smoke clung to the downtown district and residents watched and recalled the lives behind those buildings.

"When you lose one, it really demonstrates how valuable each one is and how much character each one adds," said Alecia Parker of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. "It really is a significant loss."

The first building is the three-story structure that contained the India Palace restaurant, at 186 Main St., where the fire is believed to have started, and American Spoon Foods, at 184 Main St., which sold preserves, relishes and condiments.

The front of the building faces Main Street, the back faces State Circle. Gov. Parris N. Glendening could throw a baseball from the front Capitol steps and hit the back door of India Palace.

Donna Hole knows that building. She's the director of historic preservation in Annapolis. For five years, the city has been compiling histories of every old building in Annapolis -- 265 so far, including each Main Street address.

The building that contained the restaurant and food store was the pride -- and substantial investment -- of Leon and Bessie Gottlieb, who built it in 1899.

Gottlieb's Department Store was the first of its kind in Annapolis. Before, Hole says, residents bought clothes and household goods in shops. This wasn't exactly Wal-Mart, but it was a big deal for the times.

"It was quite a thrill when it was built," she said.

The Gottliebs operated the department store until 1939, when Leon died.

Alvan Polan bought it and divided the building in two.

By 1949, one side held Lad and Lassie's Children's Clothing, the other side held Berman's Women's Clothing.

City records show that Polan owned the store until 1958, when he sold it to Maurice Klawans, a doctor who apparently kept it as an investment.

Between 1966 and 1985, the building had a series of owners and served as the home for several stores, including the Ocean II record store and Lafayette Restaurant.

At some point, Hole said, an addition was built on the State Circle side that looks like a separate building but is part of the same structure.

Law offices in that addition, at 5-7 State Circle, also were destroyed in the fire.

Ron Hollander, an Annapolis landlord, bought the property in 1985 and remains the owner, Hole said.

"It's a little more substantial than other buildings," she said. "It's very well designed and very typical of Victorian building in that period."

Walking through Annapolis is like strolling through an outdoor museum. Historic Annapolis -- isn't that what it's always called, as if the adjective were part of the name?

A Colonial city filled with narrow, brick-paved streets and quaint, turn-of-the-century Victorian shops and offices. A city that boasts homes built as early as 1740 and the state's first historic district. A city that's home to the State Capitol and the U.S. Naval Academy.

A city that knows the value of tradition.

It's the kind of city where you can try on a pair of shoes and meet Morris Snyder, the 79-year-old owner of Snyder Bootery, a business that has been in his family more than 90 years.

"This is a bad thing," he said of the fire. "It's a bad time of the year."

It would have been the best time of year for the owners of Christmas Spirit, a shop that sold holiday cards and ornaments.

The store was in the other building that was destroyed, at 180 Main St.

That building, also three stories tall, was constructed in 1885 by Christian Boessel and originally was a drugstore, then was a jewelry store from 1891 to 1913.

In 1919, the building was sold to Peter and Rose Corosh, who ran the jewelry store until 1938.

"She was from Annapolis," Snyder says. "Her father ran the hardware store on Main Street. They were old-timers. You know, from the old country."

In 1938, Frances Edwards bought the building. She was still listed as the owner in 1994, but Hole said heirs might hold the title now.

The building was home to Stearn's Jewelers, Anchor Floor Coverings and other businesses.

Preservationists say the buildings ranked high on the list of Annapolis historic structures.

"They were contributing structures to the streetscape and to the historic character of the neighborhood," said Aliki Kulukundis, director of preservation outreach for the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

"Their loss will be felt."

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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