Council eyes historic status for 9 buildings at hospital

Preservationists seek to add 4 other sites at Sheppard Pratt to bill

August 05, 2002|By Brendan Kearney | Brendan Kearney,SUN STAFF

A bill is expected to be introduced at tonight's Baltimore County Council meeting that would add nine buildings on the campus of the Sheppard Pratt Health System to the county's list of historic landmarks.

That's four less sites than recommended this year by the county Landmarks Preservation Commission, a fact that concerns some preservationists.

The commission's list was sent to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who whittled it down to nine. His recommendations were the subject of a public hearing July 1, at which preservationists and representatives from the hospital spoke out.

All parties seem to agree that the nine structures nominated for the list are historic and deserve to be preserved. But preservationists say the other four need to be protected to maintain the coherence of the campus' architectural scheme.

The structures on the list are the "A" and "B" buildings, the gatehouse, the Casino building, the Norris Cottage, the Norris Spring House, the Spring House adjacent to the Weinberg House, the walkways connecting the "A" and "B" buildings to the admissions building, and two silos. The walkways are viewed as one structure, as are the silos.

Sheppard Pratt has plans to build a new hospital next spring near the site of the current medical facilities, the "A" and "B" buildings, which sit on the top of a hill on the 80-acre property at 6501 N. Charles St. Hospital officials said some of the structures recommended by the commission would have thwarted the new hospital, part of a larger effort by the 111-year-old institution to modernize psychiatric treatment and make the best use of its land.

"All of the buildings that have been nominated [by the commission] do not deserve to be on the list," said Robert A. Hoffman, an attorney for the hospital. "They don't meet the criteria."

Bonnie B. Katz, vice president of corporate business development at Sheppard Pratt, said the hospital's emphasis is on treatment, with aesthetic concerns having less importance.

"Our legacy is to serve patients, and the way to do that now is different than when it was built," said Katz, who labeled the omitted structures - the admissions building, the power plant, a barn and a stone bridge - "functionally obsolete."

"The campus, where Zelda Sayre, wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, once came for treatment, is now the site of dormitories that Sheppard Pratt rents to Towson University students. Some preservationists say the dorms, which encircle the Casino building, are evidence of architectural clutter that has afflicted the campus.

"The original buildings had a sort of character to them that is uniform," said Jeffrey Lees, a local architect who recommended to the Landmarks Preservation Commission that 14 Sheppard Pratt structures be added to the list. "The setting is what is being compromised by these out-of-place structures."

Katz responded, saying, "In order to operate in this financial climate, our trustees decided to put our land assets to use in the furtherance of our mission."

Leigh McDonald Hall, who lives in Samuel's Hope, a county landmark, said she is aware of the hospital's financial constraints, but that preservation cannot be pushed aside. "I see their side, but we have to preserve a little of our history from the area. They are attractive, beautiful, sturdy structures," she said.

Carol Allen, president of Historic Towson Inc., agrees.

"When you preserve, you preserve for the connection to the past," said Allen, a Stoneleigh resident. "It gives your community a distinction that no one else has. If you while it away, it becomes any place, and that segues into no place."

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican whose district includes the campus, said he would like to see Sheppard Pratt make an effort to save structures that were omitted from the list.

The council is scheduled to vote on the list Sept. 3.

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