Proposals offered for H.L. Mencken House Museum, writers center among ideas presented

June 16, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Residents of Union Square in Southwest Baltimore heard plans last night to use the neighborhood's H. L. Mencken House as a museum or a writers center.

At a forum organized by the Union Square Association, Margaret R. Burke, a Ruxton consultant, said the city-owned house could be used as a museum or a center for writers workshops and a place for school-age children to learn to read.

"The house is not a house about furnishings. It's a house about ideas," Burke, who was hired by the association, told about two dozen people at the Pratt Center for Maryland Neighborhoods, a city-owned building at Hollins and Calhoun streets.

Burke pointed out that other literary figures also lived in Southwest Baltimore, including Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett and Russell Baker.

Last night's session was intended to be a general discussion of ideas for the house, which was closed last summer because of funding problems with the City Life Museums.

"We're trying to field a variety of ideas tonight and alternate uses for the house," said Cindi Ptak, the association's director of historic preservation.

The city has agreed to pull the Mencken House out of the City Life Museums.

A request for proposals published by the city would treat the house as an entity separate from the other properties that make up the financially troubled City Life Museums, such as the Peale Museum, Carroll Mansion and the Blaustein Center.

Karen Fretz, who lives next door to the Mencken House, said about 120 people have shown up in past years only to find it closed.

"I don't like to see people come and not get in," she said.

The three-story brick rowhouse at 1524 Hollins St. faces Union Square park. It opened as a public museum in 1983 and closed last year when the Baltimore City Life Museums hit financial hard times.

Last fall, the Smithsonian Institution took back objects -- a teapot, a toy steam engine, furniture and Victorian artificial flowers under a glass dome -- that had been on loan to the house.

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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