Banner Development

A delayed bequest to Baltimore's Flag House and War of 1812 Museum, invested wisely, becomes a $2.2 million gift and promises a star-spangled future.

June 14, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

As they prepare to celebrate Flag Day today, directors of Baltimore's Star Spangled Banner Flag House and War of 1812 Museum find themselves in an enviable position - they're about to receive a $2.2 million windfall.

While other museums are struggling to keep their institutions afloat, directors of the Flag House will be able to expand their history campus just east of the downtown business district.

But even with the additional money, they say, they'll need to raise double that amount to renovate the existing buildings and increase their endowment, which will be used to hire more staffers and properly maintain the country's only museum dedicated to the War of 1812.

Still, they'd rather have that problem than not.

"We've been given a magnificent gift," says Sally Johnston, executive director of the Flag House and 1812 Museum. "It will give us a chance to grow and handle larger groups. The timing is extraordinary."

The gift is from Jean Hofmeister, who served as Baltimore's harbor master from 1940 to 1973 and was a former president of the Star Spangled Banner Flag House Association. When Hofmeister died in 1986 at the age of 81, he left $1 million to the Flag House Association. (His city salary was supplemented by private sources of income.)

The will stipulated that the money be used to construct a meeting house that would complement the Flag House, and accommodate history groups and patriotic organizations that don't have a place of their own.

A national landmark, the Flag House, which was founded in 1927, is one of Baltimore's oldest museums. It's the first place where Congress allowed the U.S. flag to fly 24 hours a day.

The Flag House Association was formed to operate a museum dedicated to the memory of Mary Young Pickersgill, a widowed flag maker who made the 30-foot by 42-foot flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became the National Anthem. Pickersgill's flag is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Baltimore's Flag House, 844 E. Pratt St., is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. About 12,000 visitors a year tour the 1793 home where Pickersgill sewed the Star Spangled Banner in the summer of 1813. Guests also can visit a separate 1950s-era structure that contains military and domestic artifacts related to the War of 1812.

According to Hofmeister's will, the bulk of his bequest couldn't be touched until Jan. 1, 2001, although some funds could be used for site surveys and design work. In the intervening 14 years, the already-handsome gift was invested wisely, and more than doubled to approximately $2.2 million today.

According to J. Prentiss Browne, a past president of the Flag House Association, Hofmeister was a history buff who started developing plans for a new building on Flag House grounds more than a year before he died.

Johnston suggested that one explanation for the 15-year delay is that 2002 is the 75th anniversary of the Flag House Association, and that Hofmeister may have wanted the building to be constructed for that occasion.

Whatever Hofmeister's reasoning, the timing for the new construction is fortuitous. Johnston said that the Star Spangled Banner has received considerable attention in recent months as a result of the Clinton Administration's effort to restore the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry through the Saving America's Treasures program.

And directors of Baltimore's Flag House are pleased that their long wait is almost over. With less than seven months to go before the money becomes available, they're moving quickly to finalize plans for the new building. They've also launched a campaign to raise another $4.4 million to renovate the Flag House, redesign the grounds, and increase the group's endowment from less than $1 million to $3.5 million.

The new structure, called the Hofmeister Building, is being designed by RCG Inc. of Baltimore, with Jonathan Fishman and Joe Folger as the project's primary architects. Current plans call for the 15,000 square foot building to rise three stories on the north side of the Flag House property, which is city owned.

The first level will contain public spaces, including a lobby, gift shop, tea room, auditorium and a partial reproduction of Pickersgill's most famous flag. The second level will have exhibit space, including a "hands on" gallery for children; a gallery about African-Americans who participated in the War of 1812; a Chesapeake Bay gallery; and a gallery for changing exhibits. The third level will contain administrative offices, a computer resource room and storage space for artifacts.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.