What stands tallest from the city's past? Architects pick the best local building from 1870 to 1960

January 02, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Architecture Critic

What were Baltimore's best buildings over the past 100 years? Which places created by Baltimore designers will be worth celebrating a century from now?

It can be a daunting task to compile a list of buildings that are likely to stand the test of time. But that's what a local architectural group attempted to do to celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding.

Members of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects joined with the Baltimore Architecture Foundation several years ago to chose the best building from each decade since the local AIA chapter was established in 1871.

They left out the period from 1960 to the present, on the grounds that buildings constructed since then were too new to assess. (Preservation organizations typically follow the same rationale, waiting until buildings are at least 50 years old before determining whether to designate them landmarks.)

Even with that gap, the list stands today as a valuable survey of the buildings that local design experts believe to be Baltimore's best. At the start of the year 2000, it's also a good reminder of how architecturally rich and diverse this region continues to be, despite losses from fires and demolition. "The best buildings tended not to be cutting edge, and they tended not to be backward looking," said Charles Duff, president of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, whose Historic Architects Roundtable nominated buildings for the survey. "The best works of Baltimore architecture exemplify the dominant approaches to architecture for their period."

The roundtable nominated three buildings from each decade for the AIA members to consider, and the AIA members voted for the one they considered best.

According to the rules of the survey, the buildings could be any type of structure, and didn't have to fall within the city limits. But they did have to be designed by architects who were members of the Baltimore AIA chapter -- a requirement that eliminated from consideration works such as the former Ross Winans House at 1217 St. Paul Street, by New York architect Stanford White. For most of the century, however, the best local buildings were designed by members of the local AIA chapter, so not many potential candidates were left off the ballot.

Following are the nominations, as prepared by the architects' roundtable. In some cases, buildings are included in the decades during which they were designed, not completed. The Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, for example, is included in the 1890s because a design competition for it was held in 1894; the building officially opened in 1900.

1870 to 1880 -- Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, northeast corner of Mount Vernon Place and Washington Place, Dixon and Carson, 1873.

Other nominees: Baltimore City Hall, 100 N. Holliday St., by George A. Frederick. Peabody Library, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place, by Edmund G. Lind, 1858-1878.

1880 to 1890 -- Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co. bank, northwest corner of Calvert and Redwood streets, by Wyatt and Sperry, 1885. (The building is currently vacant and awaiting redevelopment.)

Other nominees: Hutzler's Palace Building, 212-218 N. Howard St., Baldwin & Pennington, 1886-1888. Graham-Hughes House, 718 Washington Place, Charles E. Cassell, c. 1885.

1890 to 1900 -- Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, northwest corner of Calvert and Fayette streets, Wyatt and Nolting, 1894.

Other nominees: Eutaw Place Temple, Eutaw Place and Lanvale Street, Joseph Evans Sperry, 1893. Equitable Building, southwest corner of Calvert and Fayette streets, Carson and Sperry, 1894.

1900 to 1910 -- The Belvedere, 1 E. Chase St., Parker and Thomas, 1903.

Other nominees: Alex. Brown & Sons building (now a branch of Chevy Chase Bank), 135 E. Baltimore St., Parker and Thomas, 1900. Savings Bank of Baltimore (now a branch of First Union Bank), southwest corner of Baltimore and Charles streets, Parker and Thomas., 1907. 1910 to 1920 -- Bromo Seltzer Tower, 15 S. Eutaw St., Joseph E. Sperry, 1911.

Other nominees: Pennsylvania Station, 1525 N. Charles St., Kenneth W. Murchison, 1911. Eastern Avenue Pumping Station, 701 Eastern Ave., Henry Brauns, 1912.

1920 to 1930 -- 10 Light Street office tower (originally known as the Baltimore Trust Building, now home of Bank of America), by Taylor and Fisher; Smith and May; 1929.

Other nominees: Baltimore City College, 33rd Street and the Alameda, Buckler and Fenhagen, 1928. Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St. in Guilford, by Palmer and Lamdin, 1923-27.

1930 to 1940 -- Enoch Pratt Free Library central branch, Cathedral Street between Franklin and Mulberry streets, Clyde N. Friz, with Tilton and Githens, 1933.

Other nominees: University of Maryland Hospital's main building, South Greene Street between Baltimore and Lombard streets, by Crisp and Edmunds, 1933. Baltimore Life Insurance Co., 301 N. Charles St., Mottu and White, 1930.

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