Paul M. Pearson II, 76, developer, jazz promoter who owned hotels

October 23, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Paul M. Pearson II, an Annapolis developer who mixed jazz with historic preservation, died Saturday of complications from a stroke at FutureCare Chesapeake in Arnold. He was 76 and had lived in downtown Annapolis until 1995.

Mr. Pearson's interests in jazz and in developing aged buildings in Maryland's capital came together in the early 1970s, when he opened King of France Tavern, a former employee locker room and beauty parlor in the basement of the Maryland Inn, and recruited the musicians who played there.

"He introduced jazz into Annapolis in a big way," said Baltimore vocalist Ethel Ennis. "He was a businessman who made his work into art.

"The King of France was a small room, but it was a nice place to sing. It was a real listening place, with the rock walls and cobblestone floor," she said of the venue where she has performed many times.

"He was a visionary and a nice guy. His two passions were preservation and jazz," said Tom Fridrich, facilities director at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. "He poured a lot of money into his buildings, and into his jazz program, too."

"He booked people he believed in - on gut and on instinct," said Andy Bienstock, evening jazz show host on WJHU-FM in Baltimore. "This was a reason musicians liked him. Even if the artist didn't draw well, Paul would stick with them if he thought they were good. A lot of the greats played there through the years."

In addition to Ethel Ennis, he booked Charlie Byrd, Earl "Fatha" Hines, John Eaton, John Pizzarelli, Stef Scaggiari, Sue Matthews, Deanna Bogart and the Hard Travelers.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and raised in nearby Ardmore, Mr. Pearson was a 1945 graduate of Harvard University, where he studied agricultural economics.

In the 1940s, he became a writer for the Tex and Jinx NBC radio show in New York, a job he held for several years until his uncle, Washington political columnist Drew Pearson, asked him to manage a Montgomery County farm he owned. Mr. Pearson accepted and started sharecropping neighboring farms until he managed 1,800 acres. He supplied sod to the former Hechinger hardware chain.

In a 1989 Sun interview, he said he first visited Annapolis in 1968 to go sailing. He recalled a sleepy, mildly run-down town where downtown shops were boarded up or sold mainly functional goods such as work clothes, hardware and groceries.

"But, good God, you could see the potential," he said. "We couldn't believe it. Waterfront property that cheap."

For $110,000, he purchased an old Spa Creek marina in Eastport that he helped develop into the Tecumseh, one of the early Annapolis condominium projects.

In the early 1970s, he bought Maryland Inn, where he created King of France Tavern. He soon added four more hotels - Governor Calvert House, Reynolds Tavern, Robert Johnson House and State House Inn. He also developed two additional condominium projects, Shearwater and the Point, both in Eastport.

Mr. Pearson's taste for 18th-century architecture found favor with the city's historic preservation community. His hotels had individually designed, historically accurate rooms. He also supported time-consuming archaeological studies.

Family members said that by the early 1990s, he was suffering from financial overextension. He was forced into bankruptcy and lost his properties, including Maryland Inn.

When his financial distress became known, Annapolis friends staged "A Touch of Class," a 1994 testimonial concert held at Maryland Hall.

He had plans to restore a vintage Trumpy yacht as a floating restaurant before he suffered a series of strokes.

In 1999, he was given a certificate of appreciation from the Annapolis Ward One Residents Association for his preservation work. This year, the Maryland Federation of Art named him honorary chairman of a fund-raiser.

Mr. Pearson's 1948 marriage to Nicole Hargrove, a modern dancer, ended in divorce in 1974.

He is survived by three daughters, Karen Fazekas and Celia Pearson Krebs, both of Annapolis, and Andrea Howe of Washington; two brothers, Drew Pearson of Kittery Point, Maine, and Tom Pearson of Del Mar, Calif.; a sister, Anne Pearson of Edgewater; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 4 at Governor Calvert House, 58 State Circle.

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