Former hospital may see changes

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Property: Bolton Hill residents urge the city to acquire a vacant historic building they say has fallen into disrepair.

December 28, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

CONCERNED that a vacant nursing home has become a blight on Baltimore's Bolton Hill historic district, Mayor Martin O'Malley has indicated that his administration might explore the possibility of acquiring it by eminent domain so it can be put in the hands of an owner who will redevelop the property.

During a social event in Bolton Hill this month, according to residents, the mayor indicated that he would consult with his staff on the feasibility of condemning the former Women's Hospital building at 140 W. Lafayette Ave. to expedite its redevelopment.

The mayor took a similar stance with the Belvedere Square shopping center after nearby residents voiced fears that its deterioration was adversely affecting their community.

"The city is always available to look at options," a representative of the mayor said yesterday. "But the mayor didn't commit himself one way or another."

"We welcome the mayor's involvement and support whatever measures he can take to expedite the appropriate development of this property," Bolton Hill resident George Lavdas said.

In its current condition, the building is "like a rotting hole in the heart of Bolton Hill," Lavdas added. "Property values of the homes facing the nursing home have been negatively affected. The property is an eyesore. It attracts vagrants and rodents, which is a substantial health hazard. It represents a fire hazard."

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building occupies the block bounded by Lafayette Avenue, John Street, Mosher Street and Brevard Street. It dates from 1886 and was expanded in 1888, 1909 and 1929. Portions were designed by noted architect Joseph Evans Sperry.

The building was constructed to house the Hospital for the Women of Maryland and remained its home until the 1960s. The hospital joined with Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital of East Baltimore in the 1960s and moved to Baltimore County. The hospital is now Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The former hospital property was subsequently converted to a nursing home. It was run by a succession of operators until the early 1990s, when it was closed and put up for sale. In 1992 it was acquired at auction for $825,000 by a local company that had foreclosed on the property. Its owner is Bolton Hill John Street LLC, a limited liability company controlled by David Hurwitz.

Hurwitz could not be reached to comment. His attorney, Howard Cassin, said he was unaware of any efforts by the city to acquire the building by condemnation. Cassin said there could be a change in the building's status in the near future, but he would not be more specific.

The fate and condition of the building have been a source of concern to Bolton Hill residents for many years. In 1997, developer Mendel Friedman disclosed that he was working with a Washington-based developer to convert the building to 70 apartments, but the project never moved ahead.

On Jan. 5, the building's owners are scheduled to appear in city housing court for a hearing to determine whether they are in contempt of court for violating a consent order dated Oct. 29, 1999. The order requires them to either raze, rehabilitate or transfer the property "to a bona fide purchaser in an arm's length transaction."

Lavdas said the owner has failed to keep the building in good condition.

"Maintenance of the building ceased immediately after the Hurwitzes took control in 1993," he said. "Nothing was repaired or painted. In general, the exterior was permitted to decay. For example, broken windows were not repaired. The grass was never mowed. Weeds grew out of control. Faced with Hurwitz's failure to maintain the property and the resulting unsightly appearance, the neighborhood, in April 1995, assumed the responsibility of maintaining at least the lawn in front of the nursing home."

Lavdas said he met with Hurwitz in 1999 and expressed the community's concern.

"In response, he just kept asking what it would take for us to stop complaining," Lavdas said. "He also stated that we, the residents of Bolton Hill, had too high an opinion of the area in which we live. He said that people `outside' the area do not have such a high opinion. We speculate that this was his way of saying that we shouldn't be too troubled by an abandoned and deteriorating building in the heart of our neighborhood. More importantly, it certainly communicated his intent to let the building rot until such time as he found someone to pay him far more than the building was worth, even if this took decades."

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, a preservationist who lives in Bolton Hill, said she hopes the building can be adapted for a new use.

"I love that building," she said. "It's sort of utilitarian, but it's a lovely contributory building to the architecture of the neighborhood. I would hate to see it go."

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