Modern look in store for historical society

Groundbreaking held for $10 million addition to Mount Vernon campus

April 13, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A contemporary look of zinc and glass will dominate the Maryland Historical Society's new $10 million gateway building, society officials said yesterday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the structure.

"A modern building shows that history is living," said the lead architect, Steven G. Ziger of Baltimore's Ziger/Snead LLP. Pointing to the disparate buildings that make up the museum, he said, "The whole campus has artifacts of time," suggesting that each building on the square block represents a different era.

Recently acquiring the remainder of its city block in Mount Vernon brought the freedom to make over the site, society trustees said. The trustees said they believed that a significant public statement was needed to assert the society's presence.

Zinc, which is to be the main exterior material, was often used for the roofs of Gothic cathedrals, Ziger said, proof that it "lasts a very long time," gradually taking on a patina.

"This is our block, and these are the things that will put this place on the map," Stanard T. Klinefelter, president of the historical society's board, told the gathering under a courtyard tent.

He added, "I love this place, but as it is, there is not much sense of where you are."

The new three-story, 38,000-square-foot building will shift the main entrance of the complex -- a mix of architectural styles -- to the 600 block of Park Ave., where a landscaped courtyard and a glass entrance and lobby will look more inviting than the brick edifice on the 200 block of W. Monument St., officials said.

The new building will offer a more vivid "visitor experience," which many agreed was a long time coming for a 158-year-old institution.

It also will connect the more traditional brick buildings with the art deco Greyhound bus terminal on the side of the complex at Howard and Centre streets.

The historical society's collection, which covers 350 years of Maryland's colonial and state history, will be shown in the new building.

A "Looking for Liberty" exhibit will be displayed on the first floor, with fine period furniture on the second, and paintings on the third.

The building also will house an expanded library of Maryland history, named after H. Furlong Baldwin, former chief executive of Mercantile Bank, who attended yesterday's event.

After the building is completed, it will have to sit for a few months to let the building materials settle and dry before the society's collection -- including Francis Scott Key's 1814 manuscript of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- can be moved in.

The new building is expected to open in November of next year, a spokeswoman said.

Dennis A. Fiori, the society's director, said much-needed storage space would be part of the expansion, adding half in jest, "We have had no new shelves since 1917."

Yesterday's event was the culmination of a five-year capital campaign, which brought in nearly $30 million in public and private funds, Klinefelter said.

In a first-time joint gift, the Meyerhoffs and Griswolds, two of Baltimore's most philanthropic families, gave $1 million total last year. At least $10 million will be placed in the endowment, trustees said.

The society, founded in 1844, has one of the nation's largest collections of Americana, Fiori said, including the storytelling Baltimore Album quilts.

It also houses the former City Life Museums' collection of Baltimore cultural history.

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