Contractor who fought to preserve Owings house plans to build model Project requires sale of 'Brother's House'

June 19, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Two years ago, Tom Cardinale unsuccessfully tried to block the demolition of the 18th-century Samuel Owings House. Now, with a developer's plans to build a life-size replica of the house still unfulfilled, the 60-year-old home improvement contractor says he's going to build his own version.

And he's going to build it by hand, brick by tiny brick.

His dream is a miniature version of the house named after the founder of Owings Mills, and to build it, Cardinale is willing to sell something dear to his heart: an elaborately detailed, miniature Victorian home he and his late brother built.

"To part with that house is going to be parting with a piece of me, and a piece of my family and a piece of my brother," Cardinale said. But selling the house -- which he believes could bring thousands of dollars -- may be necessary to finance his goal.

The original Samuel Owings House was razed in 1996 to make way for an office tower and parking garage. It was demolished just hours before historic preservationists were to go to court to try to save it.

"When they tore that house down, it just tore a piece of my heart out," said Cardinale, who was a member of the Committee to Save the Samuel Owings House. "It's just the type of house that when you see it, you fall in love with it, and you think it should be there forever."

Developer Howard Brown, who demolished the house, has promised to build a replica. Developers of a Jewish day school in Owings Mills have set aside more than 2 acres for the building, but construction is not expected to begin until later this summer.

Meanwhile, Cardinale is beginning the research that will tell him what the Owings house looked like in Colonial times, before its many renovations. He will build his model on a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot, like the Victorian model that he calls "Brother's House."

That model, which shares space in the garage of Cardinale's

Carroll County home with a 1973 Cadillac El Dorado convertible awaiting restoration, is a showcase for Cardinale's building skills and evidence of his patience.

His brother Dino started the nine-room house in 1976 and worked on it in his spare time until his death in 1992 at age 64. Cardinale took over, working on the project evenings and weekends.

The house, a 3-by-5-foot model of a Victorian mansion in New Brunswick, Canada, has a pump and a tank to provide running water. Transformers reduce household electricity to a 12-volt current, which feeds tiny chandeliers made from costume jewelry. Working wall switches control the lights.

The parlor, bedrooms and living room are filled with tiny, handmade furniture. The dining room features a parquet floor -- and a birthday cake for Cardinale's late brother. A brick chimney spews smoke, much like a model train.

Cardinale attached slate shingles, one at a time, to parts of the roof. He used moss to simulate the front lawn. Two small holly shrubs represent trees. He regularly mists the vegetation.

Cardinale says that he is advertising the house on Internet sites in hopes of selling it to a hobbyist to finance his next project. He expects to take at least a year to build the Owings house.

He's not sure where the model will end up when he's done. The history room at the Reisterstown branch of the Baltimore County library seems a logical place to him. Librarian Marlene Kuhl says the room is too small for a permanent exhibit, but she says the model could have educational value, and she's not ruling out a temporary exhibit at the library branch.

Vicki L. Almond, another member of the Committee to Save the Samuel Owings House, said the model would be a valuable teaching tool because there are so few drawings of the original house. She said if Cardinale can match the level of detail in the Victorian house, the Owings house will be impressive.

"If he can do that, we'll be able to keep history alive," she said.

Cardinale said, "This will be an opportunity to give back to Baltimore County something that it lost."

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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