No plans to tear down apartments, Basilica says

Preservationists meet with restoration planners

October 24, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A Basilica of the Assumption official assured preservationists yesterday that the Archdiocese of Baltimore has no immediate plans to demolish the neighboring Rochambeau Apartments on the corner of West Franklin and North Charles streets.

The national landmark - the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States - will undergo a $25 million restoration starting in the spring. As part of the outdoor landscape plan, Basilica Trust Executive Vice President Robert Lancelotta recently broached the idea of demolishing the century-old apartment building to clear room for a better view of the domed gray church with a green copper roof. The apartment house was quietly purchased by the archdiocese last year.

At a meeting yesterday, a Maryland Historical Trust official told Lancelotta and John G. Waite, the restoration architect, that demolishing the apartment building could jeopardize the state tax credits that were recently approved for the Basilica preservation project.

The state tax credits would apply only to exterior restoration and cover about 20 percent of the proposed project costs, Michael Day, deputy director of the trust, said in an interview yesterday, noting the project approved for tax credits makes no mention of a building demolition. If the archdiocese changed the project to include taking down the Rochambeau, then, Day said, the state could ask for all or part of its money back "within the first five years after a project is done."

"If they were to demolish something without permission, we would consider that something we would not approve," Day added.

Day did not attend the meeting, but a member of his staff did. The trust is a state agency.

The meeting, held at Preservation Maryland's offices in Baltimore, gave those who attended - including representatives of the city's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation - a chance to voice their concern about losing the Rochambeau.

"We're pleased," said John Maclay, president of Baltimore Heritage.

Archdiocese spokesman Stephen Kearney confirmed yesterday that the archdiocese has no plans to tear down the Rochambeau.

The restoration would drastically alter the cathedral appearance indoors and out. Stained-glass windows will be replaced with clear glass, allowing natural light in. The weathered copper roof will be replaced with cedar wood shingles to make it more authentically an early 19th-century structure.

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