Old publishing property in a shiny new edition

Apartment complex is planned for Waverly buildings and a grand old fire station.

Architecture

January 06, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Architecture Critic

When Waverly Inc. relocated from midtown Baltimore to Camden Yards in 1995, the move proved invigorating for the company but devastating for the neighborhood it left behind.

Leasing agents tried for several years to find other businesses to occupy the publishing company's three-building complex at Guilford and Mount Royal avenues, with little success.

Now prospective buyers believe they have found a way to bring that prominent corner back to life, without relying on companies that may never materialize.

Printer's Square is the name of an $8.16-million apartment complex that William H. Hazlehurst Jr. and David L. Lewis plan to construct in and around the buildings formerly owned by Waverly, now part of Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

Instead of offices for a publisher, the two- and four-story structures will be reconfigured as 62 loft apartments for young professionals, college students and others who want to live in the heart of the city.

It promises to be a strong residential anchor that will save historic buildings and help support the Station North arts and entertainment district planned for the area around Pennsylvania Station.

But Printer's Square is equally significant as the sort of bold urban design proposal that Baltimore doesn't see enough: a development that has a chance to succeed because its designers were willing to take risks and challenge the status quo.

Others tried to find more companies to take the place of the one that moved away. The planners of Printer's Square decided to change the paradigm and find a new use for the buildings themselves -- one that would not only attract tenants but also do more for the surrounding area.

The idea for converting the buildings to housing came from Hazlehurst, a local developer who has renovated more than $20 million worth of historic buildings over the past 20 years. While some developers have staked out areas such as Federal Hill or Canton, he has concentrated on the area around the former Waverly property, the block bounded by Mount Royal and Guilford avenues and Calvert and Preston streets.

Hazlehurst said he thought the best use for the block would not necessarily be another company, because businesses tend to close up after dark. "I didn't see it doing all that much for the neighborhood."

He figured the best use would be a residential development that added people 24 hours a day. "I thought if we could have people living there," he said, "it would put some vitality in the community."

Fire station became key

The former Waverly buildings, at 1310 Guilford Ave., 1314 Guilford Ave., and 1300 Hunter St., date from 1910, 1962 and 1926 respectively. They're connected by footbridges spanning Hunter Street. Hazlehurst and Lewis have an option to acquire the buildings from a local group that bought them several years ago but never occupied much space inside. (The city agreed to acquire them in 1994 as part of an economic incentive package designed to keep Waverly from moving to the suburbs, but later sold them.)

The key to making the residential development work was the chance to add a fourth structure that tied it all together, the Beaux Arts fire station at 1312 Guilford Ave. Marking the bend where Mount Royal Avenue turns into Guilford, the 1906 building housed Engine Company No. 28 for years. Hazlehurst thought it could be a dramatic signature entrance for the apartments his group wanted to create on either side -- if it could be incorporated.

As it turned out, the city closed the fire station in mid-2000 and declared it surplus property. The Baltimore Development Corp. sought proposals last fall and received three. Because they already had an option to buy the Waverly properties, Hazlehurst and Lewis submitted the only bid that called for the fire station to be the centerpiece of a much larger development. After reviewing all three proposals, the development corporation selected Hazlehurst and Lewis to redevelop the fire station -- enabling Printer's Square to proceed as envisioned.

If firefighters have become national heroes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, fire stations have gained stature as well. The Guilford Avenue building, with its highly decorative front, was always a heroic structure -- not unlike a triumphal arch.

Preliminary designs by Klaus Philipsen of ArchPlan Inc. call for the fire station's main level to serve as the grand entrance and lobby for Printer's Square, as well as two apartments. Its second floor would be turned into two more apartments, one with a balcony under the arched entry. Distinctive features such as the tin ceiling, mosaic tile walls and four fire poles will be preserved as part of the public space.

Exteriors will be restored in compliance with federal standards, so the developers can qualify for preservation tax credits. The primary change to the exteriors of the Waverly buildings, the architects say, will be creating openings in walls that were either windowless or blocked up over the years.

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