Recycling of 3 buildings a North Baltimore test Architecture: The downtown is famed for creative reuse of aging buildings

now another area's police station, school shell and vacant library pose a challenge.

March 17, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In North Baltimore, when people talk about recycling, they mean more than glass bottles and old newspapers -- they mean architecture, too.

Breathing new life into old buildings that might go dark and decay is something for which Baltimore has become famous. "The Camden Yards warehouse is the classic example. It doesn't get better than that," said Charles Duff, president of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.

Now three aging civic buildings -- the empty shell of a school building, a closed library and a Victorian police station, all in North Baltimore -- pose new ingenuity tests for creative reuse.

The three, each at different stages of the reuse cycle, provide examples suggestive of what it takes to reincarnate an urban building. While an active community and receptive officials affect an outcome, nothing takes the place of money.

The best formula, Duff said, is "somebody with vision, some skills and money."

In the case of Eastern High School in Waverly, vacant since it was closed a decade ago, long-discussed plans by the Dome Corp. -- the Johns Hopkins University developer -- are in progress to redesign the building into a new high school for the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Dome is a subsidiary of the university and the Hopkins health system.

A mile away in Charles Village, community activist Lee Jaslow, 46, spends much of his free time devising ways and finding the means to transform the St. Paul Street branch library into a community library, garden and learning center. The branch was closed by Enoch Pratt Free Library officials last year.

Jaslow, speaking of the red brick, gingerbread-style library that was built in the 1890s, said: "Old buildings give cities their character in the way they open to the street and relate to people and pedestrians. They give a sense of community and environment."

Another vintage civic building of that era, the Northern District police station on Keswick Road in Hampden, remains open for business. But its days are numbered now that city officials have approved plans to build a new police station on West Cold Spring Lane.

Dennis Byrne, 50, of Hampden, keeps a watchful eye on the building as chairman of the Northern District police station redevelopment task force.

"We're not going to let it sit vacant," he said of the handsome structure, scheduled to be replaced by 2000. "And we are emphatic that the principal structure stay intact."

Byrne and others involved in the Greater Homewood Renaissance project -- a grass-roots plan to improve North Baltimore -- are closely monitoring the old Eastern High and St. Paul Street library reuse projects to see what lessons might apply to the Northern District station.

A mix of private and public dollars -- nearly $20 million -- will be spent on rehabilitating the 1930s Eastern High shell across the ,, street from Memorial Stadium, said David Albright, development manager for Dome Real Estate.

Kennedy Krieger is a medical institute affiliated with Hopkins that works with youths with learning and behavior disorders. It will use the new high school for teaching up to 200 teen-agers a curriculum that emphasizes career and self-sufficiency skills, Albright said.

Pains will be taken to preserve the appearance of the brick exterior. "The craftsmanship of those buildings is hard to repeat," Albright said.

Jaslow could not agree more, which is why he and other Charles Villagers have spent months negotiating a $1-per-year lease for the empty library, which was closed by the city last fall despite community protest.

The city's Board of Estimates will consider whether to approve the lease next week.

"The residents really want to preserve that rich architecture that makes Baltimore unique," said Charles Graves, the city's planning director.

About the Northern District station's future, Graves said, "We will work with the [Hampden] community and come up with an acceptable reuse."

Byrne, a retired state employee, expressed optimism about a residential or retail use for the turn-of-the-century civic building. "This could not happen at a better time, with the revitalization of Hampden happening," he said.

During a walk on a recent rainy day, he noticed period touches anew, such as the stained-glass windows and the horse stables for the pre-auto equestrian force. "Hopefully, with a little TLC, it will last another century," he said.

Duff points out that "the great cities of history" -- Paris, Rome, and Florence, Italy -- have often found new uses for old buildings instead of routinely knocking them down. In Europe, he said, "this has been going on for centuries."

But it wasn't until the end of the 1960s that the idea of reuse took hold in the United States, Duff said -- starting right here.

When the old Mount Royal train station was taken over by Maryland Institute, College of Art and turned into studios and classrooms for art students in 1968, the successful conversion was a sensation and launched a trend in older Eastern cities, said Duff.

"The building that started the national movement is in Baltimore," he said. Thirty years later, the movement is alive and well in North Baltimore.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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