Board OKs plans for historic city properties

Private group to run Shot Tower, mansion

January 03, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Charles Carroll of Carrollton might be shocked to see the stout brick mansion on East Lombard Street where he lived and died in the early 1800s. Paint peels from shutters. Leaves, trash and weeds seem to jockey for space under its classical columns. Grime coats the upper windows.

Now, new life is being breathed into the empty 194-year-old house that belonged to the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The city Board of Estimates agreed yesterday to turn over operation of it and several nearby buildings - including the Shot Tower on East Fayette Street - to a group led by Baltimore County innkeeper Anne Pomykala.

Pomykala has big plans. She intends to reopen the mansion and Shot Tower, which closed after the City Life Museums folded in 1997; convert several rowhouses next to the Carroll Mansion to an 18-room bed-and-breakfast inn; and put a restaurant and other uses in the cast-iron front Fava building behind the mansion, on Front Street.

The privately funded endeavor, expected to cost more than $5.5 million and take more than two years, would invigorate the historic Jonestown neighborhood, especially the 800 block of Lombard St., backers say. The mansion could reopen in September.

But while some preservation advocates are delighted schoolchildren could again traipse through the mansion and vertical ammunition factory, the praise is not universal. State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer castigated Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday for allowing an inn next to the mansion; "commercialization," he called it.

Schaefer, mayor for 15 years and governor for eight, said in a telephone interview that this is the latest preservation issue mishandled by the current mayor. He pointed to the demolition of Memorial Stadium and the razing of two buildings on Redwood Street. "Everything that's history, he's ignoring," Schaefer said yesterday. "He doesn't understand the history of Baltimore."

O'Malley aides did not respond directly to Schaefer's comments but noted that the city will continue to own the Carroll Mansion and Shot Tower. Both are being leased for $1 a year to Carroll Museums Inc., a nonprofit company formed by Pomykala, who owns the Gramercy Mansion bed-and-breakfast in Stevenson. The lease covers four years, with seven four-year renewal options.

"Because of this opportunity, the public will get to enjoy these two historic assets in the city again," said Deputy Mayor Laurie Schwartz. As for the city's entrusting them to a private entity, she said, the public "won't know the difference."

The 1840s Corp., a separate for-profit company set up by Pomykala, is to pay the city $773,000 for several properties on the same block as the mansion: the Fava building, two warehouses, a never-completed theater and rowhouses at Lombard and Albemarle streets. The houses are replicas, and some were part of the 1840s House, an attempt by the City Life Museums to show what life was like in that era.

The 1840s Corp. plans to demolish the theater and warehouses and erect a 70-car parking garage, Pomykala said.

The city has agreed to reduce the purchase price on the buildings near Carroll Mansion by $175,000 to offset some of the cost of improvements to the mansion and Shot Tower.

If all this happens, Jonestown would see its fortunes rise further. Nearby, 338 mixed-income townhouses and apartments are set to sprout by next year on ground where the Flag House Courts housing project once loomed. Two new museum attractions are about to join a rich cultural landscape a short walk from Little Italy and the Inner Harbor.

The Maryland Museum of African American History and Culture is planned for Pratt and President streets and is scheduled to open in about two years. Next door at 844 E. Pratt St., the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House plans a War of 1812 Museum addition.

"We're really changing the whole neighborhood over here," said Sally Johnston, executive director of the flag house. "People won't recognize it in two years."

Pomykala said the 30-odd cultural sites in the neighborhood - from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, to the Front Street house where Baltimore's second mayor, Thorowgood Smith, lived 200 years ago - could be tied together in a "museum walk" similar to Boston's Freedom Trail.

She sees the Shot Tower and Carroll Mansion as central components. Her vision of adding an inn and restaurant to the museum setting won the city's approval in 1999, beating out three other bids. Not until yesterday did the city formally agree on financial terms.

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