Reprieve near for Grand Lodge


Plan: The 1869 building with its stained-glass windows and large meeting rooms would remain when a 570-space parking garage is built on a nearby lot.

May 20, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

ONCE AGAIN, Baltimore's historic Masonic Temple has been rescued from the wrecking ball.

Baltimore's Department of Public Works has developed a plan that would enable the city to build a 570-space garage near Charles Street without razing any part of the seven-level meeting hall at 223-225 N. Charles St. or the six-story office building next to it, home of the Downtown Partnership.

The latest plan, to be presented today to Baltimore's Planning Commission, calls for the $10 million garage to be constructed in place of the 115-space Allright parking lot east of the Masonic Temple. It replaces plans that would have required the city to raze all or part of the Masonic Temple and 217 N. Charles St. to build the garage on the lot east of the temple.

"This is the sane solution, and it should be a model for all of downtown," said John Maclay, a local preservationist and Mason who has campaigned to see that the building is preserved. "We can provide adequate parking without destroying historic buildings."

Michael Rice, executive parking coordinator for the city, said the city's design consultants initially were concerned that the lot east of the Masonic Temple might be too small for a functional garage. But after further study, he said, the architects concluded it would be possible to design a workable garage if they could also use the air rights above a city-owned alley that separates the parking lot from the Masonic Temple.

By using the air rights above Lovegrove Alley, Rice explained, a contractor could build close to the back of the temple but wouldn't have to disturb it to construct the garage. "That gave us greater flexibility" in designing the layout, he said.

The clearance over Lovegrove Alley "makes all the difference," agreed Michael Murphy of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, the firm that developed the preservation plan. "The nice thing about this plan is that nothing has to be demolished."

Also known as the Grand Lodge of Maryland, the Masonic Temple was built in 1869 as a meeting hall for the Grand Lodge of Masons of Maryland. Restored after fires in 1890 and 1908, the building contains 10 large meeting rooms, each in a different style. The organization used it until 1994, when it opened an "activities building" in Cockeysville.

After the Masons put the building up for sale, local preservationists feared it might be sold to a buyer intent on tearing it down. The building is not protected by landmark designation, and for a time, Allright Parking Inc. had an option to buy it. In 1997, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos made an offer to buy it for restoration but canceled his plans when he couldn't acquire the adjacent parking lot as well.

Last year, the Masonic Temple was acquired by William C. Smith Co., owner of the Tremont Suites hotel at 222 St. Paul Place and the Tremont Hotel at 8 E. Pleasant St., for use as a banquet and conference facility. This spring, City Council legislation was introduced to enable the city to acquire the building from Smith to build a garage.

Under the latest plan by Murphy & Dittenhafer, the garage would rise 12 or 14 levels and be connected to Charles Street by a walkway between the Masonic Temple and the office building at 217 N. Charles St. The alley would remain open, and upper levels of the garage would be cantilevered above it.

The garage is one of several that the city is planning to build to increase the number of off-street parking spaces in Baltimore's central business district.

Before work can begin, the planning commission and City Council must approve legislation that would authorize the city to acquire land for the garage.

Murphy said construction of the garage would block light coming into stained-glass windows on the east side of the Masonic Temple, but the design team will try to back-light the windows artificially to simulate natural light filtering in.

In effect, he said, the Masonic Temple will act as a slipcover that hides the garage from Charles Street while linking it visually to the corridor.

"Even though it's not on Charles Street, it has a Charles Street address because you can go right into it from Charles Street," Murphy said. "The city gets parking, and the garage will help revitalize some historic buildings. Everybody seems pretty happy with it as a solution."

Annual tour of gardens is scheduled for June 5

"Secret Gardens Revealed," the fifth annual tour of gardens in Reservoir Hill and on Mount Royal Terrace, will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 5. Tickets for the self-guided tour cost $8 and will be available that day at Park Avenue and Reservoir Street.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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