Threatened landmarks Neglect: Collapse of Mayfair Theater roof shows time is running out for architectural gems.

July 12, 1998

THE ROOF of the Mayfair Theater has collapsed, and the 128-year-old landmark may come down soon, along with two adjoining buildings at Howard and Franklin streets. That's the word from city officials who had hoped to restore and redevelop the corner, including the old Congress Hotel.

The Mayfair, which closed in 1986, is a harbinger of things to come. All over Baltimore, vacant, architecturally notable buildings are reaching a point where they cannot be restored. One prime example is the castle-like American Brewery building in the 1700 block of Gay St., which seems destined for the wrecker's ball. The crumbling Superintendent's House in Druid Hill Park is another.

Not only vacant buildings are threatened. Also in jeopardy are several 1860s cast-iron buildings downtown, reminders of the time when Baltimore provided architectural iron for construction worldwide. Among them is 322 W. Baltimore St., which reference book calls "the most ornate cast-iron front in the city."

It is ironic that the recently released plan to revitalize Howard Street calls for the demolition of the 300 block of W. Baltimore St. because the same document proposes adaptive reuse of several other significant cast-iron structures. Such landmarks as the old Stewart's, Hecht's and Hutzler's department stores, for example, are seen as candidates for offices or apartments

After years of neglect, many Baltimore landmarks are in such disrepair that they can be saved only through a ready and economically feasible reuse plan. While the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation seems committed to redevelopment of many of its Howard Street properties, other important buildings are likely to be demolished because they have no angels with deep pockets.

The city-owned Mayfair is a case in point. It was once offered to local universities, but none had the money for the needed rehab.

Preservationists have long accused the city of conducting demolition through neglect. But as long as landmarks do not have saviors -- with money and imagination -- the city government does not appear to have the vision or sense of urgency that saving these buildings requires.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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