Riviera's luster to be restored

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Apartments: The 85-year-old mid-rise near Druid Park Lake is being readied for a rebirth, complete with business center, fitness room and community room.

January 21, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN IT WAS constructed in 1914 overlooking Druid Park Lake in Northwest Baltimore, the Riviera apartment building was hailed as one of the "handsomest and most costly" residences in the city -- Maryland's equivalent of a mid-rise on the French Riviera.

Vacant and rundown, the building is being readied for a rebirth -- a $7.8 million renovation designed to restore much of its luster and make it an attractive anchor of the Reservoir Hill community again.

Pennrose Properties of Philadelphia and Reservoir Hill HOPE, a local nonprofit, plan to acquire the six-story building at 901 Druid Park Lake Drive and rehabilitate it to create 55 apartments, most with views of the lake.

This is the first Baltimore project for Pennrose, which was founded in 1979 and owns and manages more than 5,000 apartments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, including 20 historic properties.

Partner Mark Dambly said he was attracted by the history of the building and its lakeside setting.

"It was very appealing to us -- the opportunity to do historic preservation and be pioneers in terms of urban development," he said. "We hope to appeal to young professionals who want to live in the city."

The development team is trying to preserve as much of the building's architectural character as possible while adding amenities such as a business center, a fitness room and a community room. Monthly rents will range from $495 to $625 for one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Baltimore's Planning Commission and Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation have agreed to designate the building a city landmark, an action that will enable the developers to qualify for historic-preservation tax credits.

At a recent meeting, the Planning Commission also approved a City Council bill that would allow the development team to raze two smaller apartment buildings at 2516 and 2520 Linden Ave. to create a 37-space parking lot to serve residents of the rehabilitated Riviera building. The actions must be approved by the City Council.

"We're excited about this project," preservation planner Eric Holcomb of CHAP told members of the Planning Commission during its meeting this month. "This building is a sibling to the Emersonian and the Esplanade and Temple Gardens" -- three other Reservoir Hill apartment buildings with landmark designation. "It's wonderful that all four will be protected."

Built at a cost of $500,000 and bearing a combination of Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival details that mark it as a luxury apartment building, the Riviera is one of the most ambitious structures designed by John Freund Jr., a Baltimore architect who created smaller apartment houses in Reservoir Hill and many churches throughout the city.

Preservationists say the Riviera is representative of Baltimore's apartment-building boom of the early 20th century and an integral part of the luxury housing district constructed along Druid Park Lake Drive during the first two decades of the 1900s.

Among the features considered noteworthy at the time of construction were 10-foot-high ceilings and parquet floors in the apartments and porches that could be converted into glass-enclosed conservatories.

From 1915 to the 1960s, the building was an upscale address for many prominent Jewish families, according to city records. In 1967, Mal Sherman Management Co. rehabilitated it for middle-class tenants and made it one of the first integrated buildings in the area.

Renamed the Lakeside Apartments and controlled by a group called Lakeside Apartments Limited Partnership, the building recently has fallen on hard times. In 1997, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development took possession of the building and relocated the tenants in preparation for its redevelopment. HUD turned the building over to the city housing department, which sought proposals and selected the team of Pennrose and Reservoir Hill HOPE.

The renovation plan has the backing of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. The developers anticipate financing the redevelopment with a number of funding sources, including HUD.

Cho Wilks and Benn Architects is the designer for the renovations, with George Holback as principal in charge, Cooper Gabriel as project manager and Beth Moore as project architect. Noble Preservation Services of Zionsville, Pa., is the preservation consultant. Harkins Builders Inc. of Silver Spring is the construction manager. If funding is approved soon, the developers would begin construction by spring and complete work in about 10 months.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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