Temple of Thrift awaits new use

Urban Landscape

Space: While some officials would like the Greek-inspired building to become a museum, others consider its location perfect for business endeavors.

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

FOR YEARS, it was known as the Temple of Thrift. Now, it's the temple without a tenant.

The vacant Bank of Baltimore building at 1 E. Baltimore St., a two-story structure whose design was inspired by a temple in Athens, Greece, has been put up for lease through Colliers Pinkard of Baltimore.

An adjacent office building at 7 E. Baltimore St. has been listed for sale for $2 million.

Last occupied by First Union National Bank, the buildings are the latest of several prime properties in the Baltimore area to become vacant as a result of consolidations in the local banking industry and changes in the real estate market.

At Redwood and Calvert streets, the former Fairfax Savings and Loan building is targeted for demolition to make way for a Residence Inn by Marriott. Local preservationists are challenging that plan in court and intend to picket the site Tuesday.

At Lexington and Liberty streets, the former American National Building and Loan Association headquarters is largely vacant and up for sale. It is part of a development parcel that has been awarded to a group headed by the Weinberg Foundation.

The Bank of Baltimore building stands at a key crossroads of Baltimore's central business district. Built in 1907, it was designed by Parker, Thomas and Rice to recall the Erechtheum, which stands on the Acropolis in Athens.

"It would be hard to imagine that corner without that building" said David Benn, a partner with the architectural firm of Cho Benn Holback + Associates and member of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group. "Baltimore has lost so many buildings on Charles Street. It would be a shame not to come up with a smart re-use for it," he said. Benn noted that developers have done wonders with handsome old bank buildings, converting them for use as restaurants and retail space. "It seems like a great opportunity for somebody," he said.

J. Joseph Clarke, a local developer, said he believes the banking hall would make an ideal exhibition space or visitors center for the city. "Baltimore needs something like that," he said.

Architect Klaus Philipsen said he believes it should remain a bank. Recent renovations of the Bank of America building at 10 Light St. and the former Alex. Brown and Sons bank at Calvert and Baltimore streets, now Chevy Chase Bank, "prove you can do modern banking in an old building," he said.

Peter Angelos, lead owner of the Orloles, has suggested using the building as a museum - possibly a branch of the Walters Art Gallery.

"It should be an adjunct of the Walters," said Angelos, who is of Greek ancestry. "You just put in various exhibits and so on, and it would be a cultural piece right in the middle of downtown. Put a cafe inside, too, like you have at the museum."

In 1983, the Bank of Baltimore opened a six-level addition at 7 E. Baltimore St, designed by Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet. The bank also hired RTKL Associates to plan extensive renovations of the 1907 building.

But the Bank of Baltimore was taken over in 1994 by First Fidelity Bancorp., which merged with First Union the following year. First Union initially kept the Charles Street building open, even though its main offices were a block away at 7 St. Paul St. By the beginning of this year, however, First Union had announced plans to close the Charles Street bank and offices and shift operations to St. Paul Street.

David Downey, vice president and principal of Colliers Pinkard, said the banking temple and office tower are owned by different groups but are connected and are being marketed jointly.

The building is not protected from demolition by local landmark designation, in part because the Bank of Baltimore resisted attempts by the city to declare it a landmark in the 1980s. Downey said he did not believe the two buildings are likely candidates for demolition, despite their prime location, because they occupy a "footprint" of only about 13,000 square feet - generally not considered sufficient size for a modern office tower or a parking garage.

Goucher plans session on campus planning

The design and construction of college campuses is the subject of a free symposium at 2 p.m. Saturday at Goucher College's Merrick Hall. Speakers will include Baltimore-based architects Adam Gross and Frank Luas and former Goucher President Rhoda Dorsey.

The symposium accompanies an architectural exhibit, "Stone and Spirit: Building Goucher College 1885-1954," open through Oct. 14 in the Rosenberg Gallery on campus.

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