Landmark status lovingly achieved Preservation: The mysteries of restoration are about to unfold at two Baltimore County Historical Trust workshops.

January 04, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR


An article in today's Real Estate section identifies Ruth B. Mascari as chairwoman of the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission. The section was prepared for publication before it became known that she had been replaced on the commission.

From the time she was young, Ruth B. Mascari never threw anything away. There was no such thing as an old and dilapidated item. What may be one person's junk is another's gem.

Little did she realize that she was a preservationist in the making.

"I think it comes from being a little girl and growing up in a house where nothing was thrown out and everything was saved which we now call preservation," Mascari, chair of the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in jest.

"It's just a love for old things. You just don't dump stuff, you learn to appreciate it, you learn to keep it and work with it."

Years later, with academic degrees in history and preservation in hand, she continues her efforts to help research and restore homes so that the history of Baltimore County can be linked from generation to generation.

Mascari is one of a number of speakers who will participate in two weekend workshops being sponsored by the Baltimore County Historical Trust Inc. On Saturday, she will be featured along with Jeffrey A. Lees, a restoration architect, on how to use the commission's guidelines when renovating and restoring structures. The second workshop, on Jan. 17, will concentrate on how to use specific materials in restoring specific aspects of a landmark home.

The three-hour workshops will be held at Goucher College in Towson.

According to Mascari, it takes a special type of homebuyer to get involved with a home that may be eligible to be considered a "landmark" property.

"Many times, it's because of the ambience and the style of the home, never mind the [superior] construction," she said. "It's much better and much more desirable than a newer home.

"There is a certain amount of prestige that goes with it. Landmarks, and houses in districts that are in landmark status, seem to be a much more stable place to live.

"Let's take Lutherville, for example. The community is much more interested in everybody, and it provides a much more stable atmosphere for its residents.

"Very infrequently do people do it just for the money. It's a combination of the stability, good construction and the [tax] incentives."

But not all older properties in the county qualify as a landmark home, Mascari said. It has to meet at least one of five criteria.

"If it doesn't meet the code, it doesn't meet the code," she said. "We never say, 'Oh, that's ugly.' or, 'Oh, it's pretty. I like it. Let's make it a landmark.' We are very, very careful to follow our regulations, our law.

"It simply must meet one of those criteria. And you'll notice that none of it is age in Baltimore County. We feel that age, in and of itself, does not make historical significance."

The five criteria that the commission considers are:

* Renowned architect or the work of a master builder.

* Associative value that entails the patterns of history, perhaps a person or war. Mascari said the commission is currently researching homes of the War of 1812 period.

* Singular natural beauty.

* Archaeology. "If there were probability or actually having found artifacts on the property; it does happen in Baltimore County more than people realize," Mascari said.

* Work of art. "Such as if a building had a statue or a fresco," she said. "We don't have too many of those."

Mascari listed the seven local historic districts in the county: Relay, Sudbrook Park, Glyndon, Lutherville, Franklinville, Monkton and Corbett.

Overall, she said, approximately 200 homes are on the county's final list, but she estimated that there are 2,500 eligible homes that could be brought forward but haven't been considered because of budget and staff constraints.

If a home is brought to the commission and it meets the criteria, it goes on a list to be approved by the County Council. If passed, it then is placed on a permanent final list.

"And very infrequently has a site been taken off a list that we have sent over," Mascari said, but she did note an exception such as the historic Samuel Owings home, which was removed to make way for an office complex in Owings Mills.

"[County Executive C. A.] Dutch Ruppersberger did hold it up, and I believe he rued the day that he did that because it was demolished. It's very infrequent that a site is taken off before it gets through the council, but it has occurred."

What also is occurring, according to Judith Kremen, the trust's executive director, is the indifference by "entrepreneurial groups" toward some of those eligible homes that are redeveloped for commercial use. She mentioned the conversions properties into assisted-living residences.

"As a preservationist, it's sort of a Catch 22," Kremen said. "On the one hand, we wish to see older, historical structures adaptively used because that's good for preservation.

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