West downtown on `most endangered' list

National preservation group publicizes it among 11 areas

June 14, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A national organization devoted to the preservation of historic buildings will name the west side of downtown Baltimore today to its annual list of 11 "most endangered" areas in the country.

On May 3, the Baltimore City Council approved a $350 million plan to renovate 18 blocks around the decaying Howard Street retail corridor by allowing the condemnation or renovation of 110 buildings.

Advocates of the project argue it is the city's last chance to spread the economic success of the Inner Harbor's revitalization deeper into the city and to revive half-vacant stores and offices.

But some preservationists say the neighborhood would more likely succeed if the city capitalized on the area's unique history and rehabilitated the neoclassical cornices and Romanesque arches instead of ripping them down.

"This plan is a throwback to the 1960s, when urban renewal destroyed many of America's downtowns in the name of `progress,' " said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., said the redevelopment effort would not destroy the neighborhood because the ordinance lists about 20 architecturally significant buildings that must be preserved.

"I believe in their general philosophy," said Brodie. "We will push hard to save as many buildings as possible, and use a fair and open process. They are applying exaggeration and hyperbole to the situation, and I do not think that is productive."

Within the redevelopment zone, the state is studying a $50 million plan to renovate and reopen the Vaudeville-era Hippodrome Theater.

"We see a need for renovation in that area," said Joel Winegarden, director of real estate for the nonprofit Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which owns a large parcel of property in the targeted zone and plans to build apartments and a 20-screen movie theater there.

"We hear their concerns, and we will make every effort to save the buildings that, in our opinion, can be saved," Winegarden said.

Being named to the National Trust's annual list of most endangered historic places does not ensure an area's protection. The 11-year-old list is intended simply to educate the public about the need for historic preservation. Outpourings of letters after the publication of past lists have saved several buildings, according to trust officials.

They say they have saved the Congressional Cemetery in Washington; Virginia City, Mont., now a state-owned historic site; and the oldest surviving McDonald's in Downey, Calif.

The other 10 sites on this year's list are:

The Richard H. Allen memorial auditorium in Sitka, Alaska.

Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco.

Country Estates of River Island in Louisville, Ky.

Four national historic landmark hospitals in New York state.

Hulett Ore Unloaders industrial equipment in Cleveland.

Lancaster County, Pa., a rural area known for its Amish population that is being overwhelmed by sprawl.

Pullman Administration Building and Factory Complex in Chicago.

The Arts and Warehouse District in San Diego.

Travelers' Rest in Lolo, Mont., where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped on its epic journey of exploration.

Main Street in towns across the United States, where national chains are moving in and demolishing historic buildings.

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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