New life near for two old buildings


Historic: The George Wells House and the London Coffee House in Fells Point are being stabilized so interiors can be renovated for new occupants.

May 11, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

TWO OF BALTIMORE'S oldest and most historic buildings soon will have a new life.

Contractors have begun stabilizing the London Coffee House and the George Wells House in Fells Point so that their interiors can be renovated for new occupants.

The George Wells House, at 1532-34 Thames St., will become headquarters for CANUSA Corp., a paper recycling brokerage with offices elsewhere in Fells Point.

The London Coffee House, at 854 S. Bond St., will reopen as a working coffeehouse and setting for educational programs about Baltimore's maritime heritage.

The restoration work was initiated by the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, a nonprofit organization that purchased the buildings for $100,000 total in 1998 and will continue to own the land beneath them.

CANUSA is serving as the developer for the project, which includes construction of a four-story building connecting the two historic structures and an addition on the west side of the Wells House.

"The community has worked hard to save these buildings," said Romaine Somerville, executive director of the preservation society. "We're finally on our way."

The preservation society acquired the vacant buildings from Constellation Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., to make sure they are preserved as part of the rejuvenated Fells Point waterfront.

The London Coffee House, built from 1770 to 1772, was a Revolutionary War meeting place and is considered the oldest remaining commercial structure in Fells Point. The adjoining George Wells House belonged to a renowned shipbuilder who operated an inn on the premises until about 1810.

Founded in 1982, CANUSA has outgrown its offices on Shakespeare Street and approached the society about using the George Wells property as a place to expand.

CANUSA Vice President Tim Pickering said the company plans to lease about 4,000 square feet of upper-level office space for its headquarters, leaving 10,000 square feet of office and retail space that will be available for lease to others.

The society has agreed to stabilize the exterior at a cost of about $25,000, and CANUSA will finance additional restoration work in return for a lease agreeable to both parties, Somerville said. The estimated cost of improvements beyond the shell stabilization work is $1.8 million, Pickering said.

After the coffeehouse reopens, the preservation society wants to use it to teach people about Fells Point history.

The coffeehouse was "the cradle of all economic development in the area," Somerville said. "Before there were phones and faxes, if you wanted to do business, you went to the coffeehouse and waited for someone with a common interest to come in. It was also a center for political debate."

David H. Gleason & Associates of Baltimore is the project architect. Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc. of Baltimore is the general contractor for the stabilization project. Somerville said she hopes to see both structures restored and occupied within a year.

18 preservation grants awarded in Maryland

The London Coffee House restoration is one of 18 preservation projects in Maryland that have been selected this spring to receive preservation grants under the Save Maryland's Treasures program.

A partnership of the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000, the Maryland Historical Trust and Preservation Maryland recently announced awards totaling $470,000 for the projects.

The Fells Point preservation society will receive $22,500 to fund interior restoration of the coffeehouse. Grants also will be used to help preserve or study: the Maynard-Burgess House in Annapolis; America's first radar system, known as SCR-270, in Linthicum; the S. J. Martenet and Co. collection of maps and other survey materials; the 1906 Steam Tug Baltimore; Todd's Inheritance in Baltimore County; the Harriet Tubman birth site near Cambridge; the 1881 Talbot County Sheriff's House and Jail; and Providence House in Queen Anne's County.

Also, the Principio Iron Furnace property in Cecil County; Teackle Mansion in Princess Anne; the St. John's Site in St. Mary's City; the Wm. B. Tennison, a two masted sailing "bugeye" at Calvert Marine Museum; His Lordship's Kindness, a Georgian residence in Clinton; the National Park Seminary in Silver Spring; the Barton Archaeological Site in Allegany County; the 1913 Hagerstown Fairgrounds entrance building; and the South Mountain Battlefield in Frederick and Washington counties, site of a crucial Civil War conflict.

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