IT WAS THE FIRST building in the United States constructed as a public museum. It was one of the first structures in America that used gas for lights. It served for more than four decades as Baltimore's City Hall. It later became the first public school in Baltimore for African-Americans.
Now the historic Peale Museum at 225 N. Holliday St. is about to have a new use -- but exactly what that might be is unclear.
Construction crews had been scheduled this month to begin converting the 1814 building to office space for employees of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.
But the project was put on hold at the last minute because the mayor's office wanted to make sure the new use was right for the building, which is a national landmark.
"The administration said, 'Wait a minute. This is a historic building. It was the first City Hall. What is the most appropriate use for it?' " said Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Coleman said one of the ideas under consideration is to create a conference center or "multimedia center" to supplement meeting spaces in City Hall at 100 N. Holliday St. He said that the mayor sometimes has to hold meetings outside City Hall at the Office of Cable and Communications on Market Place and that the Peale location could be a good alternative for a multipurpose conference space.
"The jury is still out on what the ultimate reuse is," Coleman said. "The intent of putting [the office project] on hold was to make sure the reuse is in keeping with the original use of the building" and reflects its history.
The Peale was most recently part of the Baltimore City Life Museums, the history-oriented institution that ran into financial problems and closed in June 1997. Its contents were transferred to the Maryland Historical Society, but the city retained ownership of the buildings.
The three-story Holliday Street building was constructed as a for-profit venture by Rembrandt Peale. It opened in 1814 and used gas for lights starting in 1816 -- one of the first installations of Baltimore Gas Lighting Co., a forerunner of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
But the museum venture fell through and creditors foreclosed on the building in 1829. The city bought the building the next year and used it as City Hall until 1875, when the current City Hall was completed one block away.
In 1876, the Peale building became the first Baltimore public school for African-Americans. The school operated for about 12 years, and then the building was used for city offices.
In 1929, concerned citizens lobbied to save the building, which had fallen into disrepair and was targeted for demolition. The building was renovated and reopened in 1931 as a municipal museum.
In 1979, the museum was renovated at a cost of $1.3 million,
including a new climate control system and a new roof, and its exhibits were revamped to feature the history of Baltimore rather than art. In the mid-1980s, it became part of the now-defunct Baltimore City Life Museums.
City officials have made no decisions on the fate of the other City Life buildings, including the Morton K. Blaustein exhibition center on Front Street and the Carroll Mansion on Lombard Street. A final decision about the Peale building will be made within the next two months, Coleman said.
N.Y. park commissioner to share his vision
Henry Stern, park commissioner of New York City, will discuss his vision of the public park as a setting for marketing, experimental management and strong public-private partnerships, in a lecture at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St.
Stern has revitalized New York's parks system by making parks cleaner, increasing parkland by 2,500 acres and planting 50,000 trees, through initiatives with nonprofit entities and private corporations. Admission to his talk, "Remaking Public Parks," costs $8 for Evergreen House members and $10 for nonmembers. Information: 410-516-0341.
Maryland Hall renovations complete
The Johns Hopkins University will hold a celebration at 4 p.m. tomorrow to mark the completion of more than $4 million worth of renovations at Maryland Hall, the oldest occupied academic building on the Homewood campus. Constructed in 1914 as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Building, the three-story structure is one of many structures used by Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering.
Pub Date: 10/08/98