Renaissance for Clipper

Redevelopment: The 19th-century industrial park, ravaged by fire in 1995, will become a $50 million complex of housing, art studios and offices.

January 31, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Two columns made of cast iron stand in the snow-dusted stretch of industrial ruins in Baltimore's Jones Falls Valley - forged 150 years ago in the same mold as those buttressing the U.S. Capitol dome.

Standing as lonely symbols amid the urban wilderness, they call up the past and suggest the future of this nearly forgotten city workplace known as Clipper Industrial Park.

The 17-acre site is the target of one of the city's most ambitious privately funded revitalization projects, a $50 million venture that aims to rebuild five of Clipper's dilapidated structures into an upscale housing community and artist colony.

Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the Baltimore firm proposing the project, made headway yesterday when the city's design advisory panel approved its master redevelopment plan. The panel, which advises city officials on architectural issues, praised the plan but cautioned Struever Bros. to study the project's impact on traffic and parking.

City officials say that an infusion of construction and community investment is long overdue at Clipper, a 19th-century Baltimore mill that once hummed with sailcloth-making machines and factory workers.

"It's a win-win. It brings jobs into the area and also increases the tax base," 4th District City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said. "We always argue there's too much development downtown and not enough in the neighborhoods."

On a walking tour yesterday of the five stone and wood structures on the site, a Struever representative compared it to a vast puzzle.

"We see these columns as pieces of remembrance," said Timothy E. Pula, a Struever Bros. development director. "Then you have to imagine pieces in the future, like a pool, cafe, tables, chairs and views of these woods. If you come out on a spring day, there's a sea of green."

The buildings - which will be called the foundry, the stables and the assembly and artisan buildings - are to become a residential enclave, with a collection of up to 200 townhouses, condominiums, apartments, up to 10 detached houses perched on the hillside, and a gallery and workplace for artists. It will also have commercial office space and a rainwater garden.

The development will encompass about 500,000 square feet. About 110 market-rate apartments are planned for the assembly building and for an empty spot on the site, which was ravaged by a deadly fire in 1995.

Pula, a Baltimore native, considers the redevelopment of the industrial park one of the last frontiers of fine Baltimore architecture ripe for rehabilitation. He said such a chance to marry the old and new does not come along that often.

"We've torn down too much of the past," he said.

The site has had its share of troubles. The 1995 fire killed a firefighter and destroyed an industrial building at the complex, leaving just a few architectural arches and traces behind. Pula said a memorial is planned to honor the firefighter, Eric D. Schaefer.

Artist Mark Eisendrath, 30, a Michigan native, worked cheerfully yesterday in the cold outdoors, chiseling a round wooden stump for a sculpture.

His "dream studio" inside, he said, has large arched windows and plenty of sun. More space for a colony of artists and artisans is planned for the foundry building, he said, along with a gallery, cafe or coffee shop.

The Poole & Hunt Foundry was the first major company on the industrial site, nestled between neighboring Woodberry, Hampden and Druid Hill Park. It was one of many factories and mills along the water that gave Baltimore its reputation as a blue-collar town that produced and shipped goods up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Looms for making sailcloth and a giant pit-lathe for making wheels were also housed in the industrial park, which provided wage employment to most of the men living in the area's mill villages.

As the 19th-century love affair with the railroad unfolded, locomotives were also made here. So was mining equipment, milling machinery, armaments and city trolley cars, Pula said.

Alfred W. Barry III, a planning consultant who represented principal owner Bill Poloway in the pending sale of the family-owned site, said it was important to juxtapose the jagged remnants of the workmanlike past with the future life of the buildings.

"We looked for a developer that would understand and respect the qualities of the historic buildings within the complex," Barry said.

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