Pushing to save Rainbow Hall

Preservationists seek landmark status for MacArthur home

Landmark status sought for former MacArthur home

April 05, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Rainbow Hall, the sprawling Green Spring Valley mansion that was once the home of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, has been nominated for preservation as a Baltimore County landmark.

The 1917 Georgian-style building was recently vacated by the Baptist Home of Maryland/Delaware Inc., which defaulted on a bank loan and was forced to close the retirement community it had run at the site for nearly 40 years.

News of the closing in February sparked fears among preservationists that the home might be sold and demolished.

It was nominated as a landmark by Doug Carroll, a member of the Valleys Planning Council, said Kim Abe, administrative secretary to the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Ruppersberger administration, which hired a historical consultant in February to evaluate the house, joined in the nomination.

A hearing is scheduled May 10 before the commission.

If the commission deems the house historic, it will recommend to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council that it be designated a landmark. If they agree, anyone razing the building would face a $100,000 fine.

The home was originally named Rainbow Hill after the 42nd Rainbow Division commanded by MacArthur in France during World War I.

MacArthur lived in the house during the 1920s when he was married to Henriette Louise Cromwell Brooks, its original owner.

Baptist Home changed the name to Rainbow Hall in the 1960s because "it sounded better for a retirement community," said Carolyn Jackson, president of the board of directors.

John McGrain, Baltimore County's historian, said this week that the building "has all the makings of a historic site."

Plans for the home - a replica of an Irish-Georgian mansion in Dublin, Ireland - were drawn up by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer, which designed mansions up and down the East Coast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Built for $1 million, "it was probably the largest private home at the time in Baltimore County," said McGrain.

The original house was 177 feet long and 75 feet wide, and included a reception hall, drawing room, sun porch, breakfast room and formal dining room. Baptist Home added a wing in 1969.

When it closed as a retirement home last month, the house still had many of its original ornate details, including a colonnade of fluted wooden columns painted as faux green marble. One of two Ming trees presented to MacArthur by Japanese Emperor Hirohito 75 years ago stands on the south side of the mansion.

The house, in the 10000 block of Park Heights Ave., is included in the Green Spring Valley Historic District, though that does not protect it from demolition.

Making it a county landmark, however, would provide that protection, said McGrain.

Allfirst Bank has delayed its planned seizure of the home until May 31, giving Baptist Home more time to find a buyer, Jackson said.

She said she has had several inquiries about the property, but did not know if prospective buyers were interested in preserving or razing the home.

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