Wall of shame Anne Arundel: Demolition of burned facade in Annapolis historic district should have come long ago.

August 21, 1998

THIS WEEK'S demolition of a fire-ravaged facade that has been an eyesore in downtown Annapolis for nine months was inevitable.

The fire that engulfed 184-186 Main St. the night of Dec. 9, 1997 severely damaged the integrity of the remaining structure, but few were willing to accept that reality.

The owner of the building, Ronald B. Hollander, had three structural engineers examine the wall and bricks in it days after the blaze.

The trio reached the same finding: The wall was structurally unsound. Historic Annapolis Foundation, respected protector of preservation in the state capital, retained its own expert: He claimed the wall was salvageable.

Mr. Hollander's research apparently was more thorough. One of his experts had subjected some of the bricks to stress tests in a laboratory and determined them to be severely compromised.

Annapolis' Historic Preservation Commission found itself in an untenable position. Because its mission is to preserve historic structures, it is predisposed to deny demolition permits. Confronted with conflicting expertise, the commission denied Mr. Hollander permission to level the wall.

The commission was in no position to make a judgment, and should have asked the city engineer for professional advice.

As important as this building may have been to the streetscape, its structural soundness was the pivotal issue, not its historic significance. The demolition was ultimately approved as weather continued to erode the facade.

Because city government shored up the wall against Mr. Hollander's wishes, it should drop the effort to recoup from him the $40,000 it spent on reinforcements for the burned shell.

The owner should not be liable for the city's mistake. Unfortunately, taxpayers will be.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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