Masonic Temple awaits new life Preservation: Restoration of this landmark could boost the Charles Street corridor.

Urban Landscape

September 03, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

A CHARLES STREET landmark is off the endangered list this month after it was sold to a company that owns two hotels nearby.

The Masonic Temple, a seven-story building at 223-225 N. Charles St., was sold for $500,000 last month to William C. Smith Co., owner of Tremont Plaza Hotel at 222 St. Paul Place. and Tremont Hotel at 8 E. Pleasant St. in Baltimore.

The sale ends more than a year of uncertainty about the vacant building, also known as the Grand Lodge of Maryland.

Though it's considered one of Charles Street's gems, the 129-year-old building is unprotected by landmark status and preservationists feared it would be torn down to make way for a parking lot. It was partially stripped of ornaments and fixtures during an "attic sale" in 1997, but many of the items have since been returned.

Chris Smith, chief executive officer of Smith Co., said he could not yet say exactly what he plans to do with the building, which is a half a block from Tremont Plaza. But he said he intends to preserve it and is just starting to select a design team to oversee restoration work.

"We're in the meeting business, and this has plenty of meeting space," Smith said. "We're leaving all possibilities open."

Asked why he had wanted to purchase it, he said, "You need to see the building. It's quite a unique building."

Jimmy Rouse, a businessman and artist who is leading an effort to revive the Charles Street corridor, said he's pleased.

"I think it's the best possible buyer," he said. "It's someone in the neighborhood who's going to use the building, respect the building, and appreciate the beautiful architecture it contains."

Rouse said he believes first-level space could be leased to a retailer who would add life to Charles Street and provide a revenue stream for Smith Co., while the upper floors could be used in conjunction with the nearby hotels.

The Masonic Temple was built in 1869 as a meeting hall for the Grand Lodge of Masons of Maryland. The organization used it until 1994, when an "activities building" opened in Cockeysville.

Restored after fires in 1890 and 1908, the building contains 10 large meeting rooms, each in a different style. Used for rituals, they include a Roman Room with a marble floor and coffered ceiling; a Tudor Gothic room modeled on Edinburgh's Roslyn Chapel; a hall that recalls an Egyptian temple; and an elaborately decorated chapter room.

David H. Gleason, a local architect and preservationist, said he believes people would hold meetings just to see the rooms.

"That would be a meeting in itself," he said. "The rooms are just exquisite. There's any architectural style you'd want to see -- Roman, Tudor, Islamic. It's perfect for meeting space. That's what the Masons did -- they held meetings."

Architects recommended for library expansion

The Baltimore design firm of Ayers Saint Gross Inc. heads the architectural and engineering team that has been recommended guide a $45 million restoration and expansion of Enoch Pratt Free Library's main branch at Cathedral and Franklin streets in downtown Baltimore.

The scope of work involves upgrading mechanical systems in the original library on Cathedral Street and designing a mid-block building to link the main library with the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Handicapped at Franklin Street and Park Avenue.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, a New York-based firm known for its restoration expertise, is part of the Ayers Saint Gross team. Maryland's Board of Public Works is scheduled to consider the design contract this month.

Peabody Institute's infrastructure plan

The architects who have been selected to transform Baltimore's dormant Hippodrome Theater into a performing arts center are working for Peabody Institute as well.

Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York and Murphy & Dittenhafer of Baltimore have been commissioned to complete a three-month study analyzing Peabody's physical plant and recommending ways to improve it. Their report is due Oct. 31.

Maryland Stadium Authority is scheduled to vote today on whether to accept a contract to hire a group headed by the same two firms to begin the architectural and engineering work needed to renovate the 2,250-seat Hippodrome at 12 N. Eutaw St. Clark Construction Group Inc. of Bethesda is the recommended construction manager.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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