WHEN IT OPENED 88 years ago, Baltimore's Hansa Haus contained the walk-in brokerage for a German steamship company, where people could book cruises or arrange to transport cargo.
After subsequent conversions to a museum branch, a catalog showroom and a cafe, the Redwood Street landmark will come full cycle in its use on Oct. 16.
That's when it officially reopens as the new home of Allfirst Brokerage Corp., a subsidiary of Allfirst Bank that sells stocks, bonds, options, mutual funds and annuities to the public.
"We're going to be entertaining customers just like they did in 1912," said Mark A. Mullican, president and chief executive officer of Allfirst Brokerage. "Whereas they would be taking a cruise or shipping goods back then, our customers are going to be making financial decisions."
"It's trading of the 21st-century variety, rather than the steamship variety," said Philip Hosmer, Allfirst's vice president of corporate communications.
Hansa Haus is a half-block north of Allfirst's headquarters at 25 S. Charles St. Allfirst Financial Inc., the holding company for Allfirst Bank, invested more than $1 million to buy and restore the three-story building at 2 E. Redwood St., which has been unused for more than five years. Allfirst has renamed it Hansa House.
The decision represents a vote of confidence in historic Redwood Street at a time when nearby buildings have disappeared or are threatened with demolition. The Southern Hotel was dismantled this year, and developers have partially torn down the old Merchants and Miners Transportation Co. building at the southeast corner of Redwood and Light streets to make way for a Residence Inn by Marriott. Local preservationists are fighting that project in court.
Hansa Haus was built by the North German Lloyd Steamship Co. Its design, by Parker, Thomas and Rice of Baltimore, was inspired by German buildings at the 1900 Paris Exposition and elsewhere, including burghers' houses with finely detailed brick, decorative tile work and distinctive rooflines.
Allfirst Brokerage was previously on the 12th floor of Allfirst's headquarters, and the street-level location is expected to make it more visible and accessible to patrons.
"It's a great location in the financial district," Mullican said. "It's close to our headquarters, with plenty of foot traffic. ... We are also delighted that our preservation and restoration of this special architecture is contributing to the second renaissance and redevelopment for the city of Baltimore."
The architects for the restoration were Ziger/Snead and GHK, both of Baltimore. Shade Construction Co. of Perry Hall was the general contractor.
Work included restoration of the exterior and complete renovation of the first two floors of the interior, including new mechanical and electrical systems. Allfirst also bought and renovated the two-story building east of Hansa House to provide additional space for the brokerage.
Throughout the project, Allfirst strove to make changes that were consistent with the building's original look and character, said Mullican and John Dillon, Allfirst's vice president for design and construction. In the main trading space, craftsmen replicated a section of the concrete ceiling that had been removed and refinished the walls to accentuate the original masonry work.
The first floor has a reception area, trading lobby, broker work stations and meeting rooms. The reception area and trading lobby will be open to the public, with monitors running stock market news via CNBC, computer terminals on which clients can check accounts and other brokerage information displays. The second floor contains administrative offices.
"People today are looking for information and education about the stock market," Mullican said. "This is a place for people to come in and talk to us and trade ideas. During lunchtime, we hope to have a lobby full of people."
One feature that is missing from the exterior is a series of plaques depicting the shields of 37 German and Baltic cities and towns that were members of the Hanseatic League. They were taken down during the renovation and are being framed for display inside the building. New banners announcing Allfirst's presence will go up on the outside, along with two clocks near the corner of Charles and Redwood streets.
The opening program will begin at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 16. Speakers will include Mayor Martin O'Malley; Susan Keating, president and chief executive officer of Allfirst; and Charles Duff, president of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.
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