Bricks and mortar Baltimore Glimpses

November 17, 1998|By Gilbert Sandler

MANY Baltimoreans committed to the well-being of Baltimore are still brooding over the recent decision of Piper & Marbury, the largest law firm in Maryland, to move from downtown to Baltimore County. The firm says it was unable to find comparable space in the central business district.

Some see the move as part of a long-term trend. But, historically, it is more accurate to say that renowned Baltimore-based firms have typically built their own buildings downtown. Studying such buildings tells you a lot about Baltimore's history.

What is best recalled as the Maryland National Bank building, at Baltimore and Light streets, is now the NationsBank building. It was built in 1929 for what was then the biggest bank in town, Baltimore Trust Co., a casualty of the Depression. The building has been known as the O'Sullivan Building, the Mathieson Chemical Building and the Maryland National Bank building, from 1962 until 1993. With the recent merger, I guess it will now become the BankAmerica building.

It then became the NationsBank building after that company bought Maryland National.

The Garrett Building, Redwood and South streets, was built in 1913 for the venerable Robert Garrett & Sons banking firm. The building was refurbished in 1984 and is now owned and occupied by the law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hollander & Hoffberger.

The 12-story building housing the State Department of Education, at Baltimore and Liberty streets, was built in 1912 as offices and showrooms of the Baltimore Bargain House, then the largest distributor of housewares, jewelry and clothing in the South.

The Bromo-Seltzer Tower building at Eutaw and Lombard streets, now the city's Arts Tower, was erected in 1911 as part of the national headquarters for the offices and factory that produced the headache powder formulated by Isaac E. Emerson.

USF&G Inc. built its headquarters at 100 Light St. in 1974, and occupied it until 1996, when it consolidated at its Mount Washington site. Legg Mason Inc. now leasesthe Light Street building.

Sun Life Co. erected its own building at Charles and Redwood streets in the mid-1950s when that venerable Baltimore firm was among the nation's leading insurance companies.

The Blaustein building, at Fayette and Charles streets, was built in 1963 by the patriarch of American Oil, Jacob Blaustein, as a symbol of civic commitment. Alex. Brown made the Commerce Place building, at 1 South St., its headquarters in 1995. Civic leader Walter Sondheim said at the time that "the symbolism of this move cannot be overstated. It says downtown Baltimore is a valuable and viable place to be."

Some businesses that move out of downtown claim it's cheaper to do business in the county. But, in our view, downtown is part of the human churn, where people and street talk and action come together. How can you put a price on that?

Gilbert Sandler is a Baltimore writer.

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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