She hopes history is worth repeating

Pomykala: A new owner with big plans for historic downtown buildings says she has the experience to succeed.

January 07, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Anne Pomykala is set. At 63, she presides over a sumptuous Tudor-style bed-and-breakfast in Green Spring Valley, has ample time for her large family and could, if she wanted, putter around her hilltop English garden.

So why are she and her husband, dentist Ronald Pomykala, taking over the closed Shot Tower and Carroll Mansion on the eastern fringe of downtown and planning to reopen them as museums? And why do they think they can succeed where the city failed - at a time when museums are scrounging for money?

Pomykala, flashing the ready smile of a veteran hostess, has answers:

She has run a successful inn with history of its own. She believes a hands-on "living history" approach will lure visitors. She and her board of directors will pursue donors and hire a skilled museum operator. She will put in her own money, too, along with some of the profits from an inn she's planning next to the Carroll Mansion, at 800 E. Lombard St.

"It is a chance to do a real public service and have a historic place for a bed-and-breakfast," Pomykala said over coffee in the cherry-paneled library of Gramercy Mansion. She and her husband bought the 45-acre Stevenson property at auction in 1985, almost on a lark, and transformed what had become a dilapidated wreck into an inn with nine guest rooms.

Their newest challenge sits just 12 miles down the Jones Falls Expressway but a world away from her neighborhood, where the hotel-size houses tend to have names - Fernwood, Knollwood and the like. The city Board of Estimates completed a deal Wednesday to lease the Shot Tower and Carroll Mansion, both 19th-century landmarks, to the Pomykalas. The board also agreed to sell the couple several nearby city-owned buildings that are to become an 18-room inn, a restaurant and offices.

It is a significant undertaking. The museum business is tricky in normal times, and these aren't normal times. Just ask Bill Cole III, executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry. "It's difficult now," he says, "becoming more difficult to raise funds, mainly tied to the economy and diminishing funding from the government."

Yet it is not impossible, Cole says, and the stakes are high. "History is history. Once it goes, you lose it."

Anne Pomykala's longtime friend, Miriam "Mickey" Reed of Bethesda, attests to her knack for success, telling a story about the Pomykalas' early days at Gramercy. She grew mushrooms when the couple first moved there. "Before we knew it, she had Giant as a client.

"When she gets an idea and sees it could work, she really produces."

Pomykala grew up in Washington, the daughter of a general contractor. In 1958 she married Ronald Pomykala, and the young newlyweds moved to Bethesda, where he still travels six days a week to practice dentistry.

In those days, Anne Pomykala learned management the old-fashioned way. She raised three boys and three girls born over 12 years. She also looked after the properties she and her husband began acquiring.

When the children were older, she nurtured an interest in the past by producing historical videos for VideoEd Productions in Hyattsville. One project was an oral history of African-Americans who lived through school integration in Washington in the 1950s. Another showcased the first Girl Scout troop. (A lifetime member, Pomykala led Scout contingents at four presidential inaugurations.)

The Pomykalas didn't know it, but a turning point for them came in 1985 while attending an EST self-improvement session. A secluded old mansion in Baltimore County was for sale, they learned, and the group was thinking of buying it.

Curious to see the place, Ronald Pomykala told his wife, "We're going up to Baltimore." The 25-room house on Greenspring Valley Road was built between 1902 and 1904 by Alexander Cassatt, Pennsylvania Railroad titan and brother of impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. The magnate built it as a wedding gift for his daughter, Eliza.

By the time the Pomykalas laid eyes on the house, the property had had a second life as home to the Koinonia Foundation, a private forerunner of the Peace Corps. It was in awful shape, with failing wells and septic system, a leaky roof and burst pipes in the carriage house.

"We fell in love with it," Anne Pomykala recalls, despite the "warts." On the ride home, they decided to join the auction and in May 1985 beat out the only other bidder with a $660,000 offer. Their initial plan was to make it a private residence, but they wanted to restore it to its former grandeur. To afford that, they needed income; hence, a home that is also an inn.

Today she is queen of her manor, casually elegant in a gold necklace and cardigan. The house is homey, with lots of dark wood and Oriental rugs, and a dozen fireplaces. On a brief tour she shows off rooms, which run $75 to $325 a night, and says guests have included "famous people."

Like whom?

She smiles. "Like, we don't say."

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