Neglect is allowing historic courthouses to begin to...

Letters to the Editor

July 23, 1998

Neglect is allowing historic courthouses to begin to crumble

The Sun's editorial "Threatened Landmarks" (July 12) laments the collapse of the Mayfair Theater and the crumbling of other "vacant, architecturally notable buildings."

As a trial judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, I have been witnessing the gradual deterioration of two historic architectural gems: the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse and Courthouse East (the old Post Office Building), in which the Circuit Court is housed. These buildings, of course, are not vacant. They are vibrant with activity.

Erected in 1899, and expanded since then, the Mitchell Courthouse will be celebrating its centennial next year. Courthouse East was constructed in 1930-1932 as a main branch of the U.S. Postal Service. In 1978, the federal government deeded the building to the city to house part of the Circuit Court.

While some renovation and restoration has taken place, it represents a fraction of what needs to be done to preserve these historical edifices and allow them to maintain a modicum of the splendor they deserve.

The Sun editorial predicts the demolition of significant landmarks -- splendid but uninhabited remnants of a bygone era -- "because they have no angels with deep pockets."

The Circuit Court buildings are a hub of activity for thousands of people daily. The city will not or cannot allocate funds to restore the buildings -- not necessarily to grandeur, but at least to respectability.

City government has always wanted and hoped the state would take over the responsibility for the city Circuit Court because it is part of the wider state Circuit Court system. But the state has not done so.

Whenever I travel, I visit local courthouses. I have seen other memorable courthouses, some also poorly maintained. The Mitchell Courthouse and Courthouse East are unique. The Mitchell building is the product of a design competition held in 1894 to which 79 firms responded.

The Renaissance Revival style building was considered a significant architectural commission from the start. This courthouse was built with beautiful marble from the Vatican quarry. Its sister building, Courthouse East, magnificent in its own way, represents a classic style with a Spanish roof.

Unless and until the state takes over, the city should make it its business to find the funds to restore the courthouse buildings.

Otherwise, they will continue to decline and will crumble, taking with them a part of history. They will likely be replaced with stark, monotonous structures lacking stature and character. Unlike the federal government, and perhaps state government, Baltimore lacks the financial resources needed to build a stately, beautifully designed building. These historical halls of justice should not fall prey to bland modernity.

I end with a suggestion to our mayor and City Council and their successors. If you can't build a courthouse -- one with architectural dignity -- please try to preserve the precious courthouses we have.

Gary I. Strausberg

Baltimore

The writer is a judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Lacrosse event creates parking woes for neighbors

I am writing as a resident of 100 W. University Parkway to express my distress at the way Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Police Department have handled the parking situation for the World Lacrosse Championship.

As a resident of the city and a graduate student at John Hopkins, I would like to be proud that our city and our leading university are hosting these games. However, because the university and the city have taken away most of the street parking available to community residents, making us captives in our own homes and subject to parking tickets every time we need to go to work or do an errand, I am unable to be the enthusiastic supporter I would like to be.

As an area resident, I was exposed to all of the promotional literature about the lacrosse games; however, we were not informed that street parking would be made unavailable for nearly two weeks -- until no-parking signs were posted along West University Parkway late the night before the event. Lacrosse game attendees occupy scarce parking spaces in the surrounding blocks, often forcing community residents to park illegally and risk $20 parking tickets.

Johns Hopkins should have made provisions for parking. I have been informed by my apartment building manager that telephone calls to the organizers of the World Lacrosse event regarding the parking situation have gone unanswered.

The new stadium is attractive, and, I imagine, an important source of revenue and prestige for the university. However, the parking situation was bad enough during the regular lacrosse season this year. The university should not sacrifice public relations within its own community to its external image.

Nancy Murray

Baltimore

Constellation Pier structure is obstructing harbor view

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