The one that got away Phew! When the smoke finally cleared from Tuesday night's fire in Annapolis' historic downtown, preservationists breathed a sigh of relief, for the Colonial-era building at 1 State Circle was still standing.

December 12, 1997|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

There it sits, triumphant, the soldier who survived battle, the flower left standing after a storm, the building that fire could not destroy.

The address is 1 State Circle, Annapolis, one of the oldest and most historic buildings in a city replete with them.

"I was just amazed, just pleasantly amazed, that this building was in the condition it was in," said Edward Sherlock, chief of the Annapolis Fire Department.

Years from now, when firefighters recall Tuesday night's five-alarm blaze in the heart of downtown, they'll tell the story of 1 State Circle and shake their heads in wonder.

Two nearby buildings were destroyed. 1 State Circle could have joined the casualty list. By all rights it should have.

One State Circle is a two-story, small-frame wooden structure that now is an office for civil engineers. It was built around 1740, one of just two dozen homes from that era that have survived.

On a scale of 1 to 10, preservationists say, the building is a 10. Here's why: When it was built, the population of Annapolis was only 1,000 people. Most of the other homes either burned or were torn down. This one was probably used as a combination residence and business.

"It's a rare example of Colonial architecture from that time that we still have today," says Aliki Kulukundis of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. Colonial refers more to when it was built -- before the revolution -- than to a particular style of architecture.

Across the street from 1 State Circle is the State House. Right next door, shoulder to shoulder, is the back entrance to the India Palace restaurant.

The fire began there. Flames shot 40 feet into the air. Charred pieces of the restaurant's third-story roof crashed to the ground. Louise Hammond, an Annapolis alderman, watched, worried and wondered about 1 State Circle.

"It was something that everyone in the crowd was very much aware of," she said. "We all hoped it wouldn't be a victim. It was sitting in such a vulnerable spot. The building next door was very much in flames."

Lt. Charles Dalton and the crew of Truck 36 were dispatched to the area. Their job was to protect 1 State Circle. Other crews protected exposed buildings elsewhere.

Dalton, a 27-year veteran, understood the historic value of the house. "He knew how old that house was because he grew up in that neighborhood," Sherlock said.

Kulukundis joined the crowd across the street. She had just left a preservation meeting about St. Anne's Episcopal Church, another Annapolis landmark.

"I saw the firefighters dealing with the fire," she says. "I saw them shoot water down the side of the building. We were all very concerned."

1 State Circle is not the oldest building in Annapolis. The Sands House, now a private residence, is believed to have been built in 1681. The Shiplap House, now the headquarters of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, was built around 1715.

But the threatened building is one of the favorites of preservationists.

"It's of critical importance," Kulukundis says.

Dalton and his crew, joined by other firefighters, went to work. Truck 36 has a ladder with a hose attached. Water kept the fire at bay.

Sherlock said the effort would have been the same had 1 State Circle been built two weeks ago. But he said saving the building was gratifying.

"The firefighters were very pleased," he said. "They all did a fantastic job."

When Sherlock inspected 1 State Circle, he discovered paint blisters along one wall, but otherwise the building remained in good repair.

"All the preservationists are breathing a sigh of relief that the building is still standing," Kulukundis said.

The building is the home of Drum, Snell and Associates, a civil engineering office. Sherlock said one of the owners -- he doesn't know who -- found Dalton and thanked him repeatedly.

"Lieutenant Dalton was really touched by that," the chief said. "He thought it was a pretty neat deal."

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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