Historic home in jeopardy

Home: An 1800s Glen Burnie mansion has been neglected, burned and vandalized and could soon face demolition.

March 11, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

With its wide-eyed dormer windows and open-mouthed veranda door, the once-regal mansion overlooking Glen Burnie's commercial sprawl has the look of a grande dame shocked by a modern world where a piece of local history apparently means nothing.

The Mazie Smith Stoll house -- so called for its last occupant, an elderly widow who may have been related to a farm family that once raised strawberries in nearby fields -- is one of the last Civil War-era farmhouses in Glen Burnie, an area consumed by car dealerships and commercial strip malls in the post-World War II boom.

The house -- which Stoll sold to developers in the early 1980s -- has stood empty for nearly two decades. Now, Anne Arundel County officials are pushing to raze the house and to take its owner, Ventura Development Corp. of Clarksville, to court to recoup the demolition costs.

"Even though it is a historic structure, it is a hazard to the community," said William R. Bryant, Anne Arundel County code enforcement administrator. He called the case one of the most "frustrating" he has encountered, in part because of the house's historic status and many failed attempts to save it.

Bryant said he has been tracking the slow decline of the 13-room house, which was built in the mid-1800s and enlarged in the early 1900s, for close to a decade.

In January, Bryant gave owner Nageswara R. Karipineni of Clarksville a Feb. 7 deadline to demolish the house or face court action. Karipineni, who did not return several phone calls seeking comment, has yet to act.

A court case to force demolition and recoup costs could take six months, Bryant said. In the meantime, Karipineni could use his own contractor to tear down the mansion. Regardless, he could face penalties.

"Let's just say fines have been levied," said Bryant, who added that at times Karipineni has failed to keep the house secure. As a result, vagrants and vandals have entered and set fire to the house, which is unsafe for firefighters to enter. Bryant declined to say how much Karipineni could be fined.

The outlook for the Stoll house hasn't always been so grim.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to save it. All of those attempts, including one by the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society to turn the house into its headquarters, failed. There was also talk of turning the mansion into a residence for low-income senior citizens, but that proposal also fizzled.

"I get more calls about that house," said Donna Ware, an Anne Arundel County historic sites planner who still hopes that the house might be saved. Ware said she has received many telephone calls over the past 20 years from residents and entrepreneurs eager to renovate the house.

Developers -- some of whom promised county officials that they would save the Stoll house in exchange for assistance securing development revenue bonds -- promised to recast the brick and plaster neoclassical house as a conference center or fancy restaurant with patio dining, but nothing happened.

Stoll was the last occupant of the house. State records show that it has changed hands at least twice since the 1980s. Karipineni, the current owner, bought the house from Chatham Development Corp. in 1992 for $210,000, according to property records.

"I was very disappointed when I saw that they weren't going to work on the house," said George F. Bachman Jr., a former County Council member from Glen Burnie. "Every time I drive by the Stoll house I think, `Man, did they give us a snow job.'"

Ivy vines have invaded its red brick walls, and rats have taken over the upstairs bedrooms. Trash is strewn across the once-elegant living room, and graffiti mars walls inside and out.

The property, which includes an expansive, overgrown yard and a small family graveyard, was added to the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties in the late 1970s. But that status won't prevent demolition.

Historians speculate that the house may once have sheltered runaway slaves and been owned by a gentleman farmer named G.W. Smith. A map from the late 1800s shows a 104-acre farm owned by Smith at approximately the same site.

"It hurts to see it looking like that," said Mark N. Schatz, a member of the board of directors of the historical society, which once tried to negotiate a purchase price with Stoll. A deal was never struck, however, and the society moved its headquarters to an old farmhouse in Linthicum.

"Still, sometimes [demolition] is just a necessity," Schatz said.

Some Glen Burnie residents call the Stoll house, at the busy intersection of Crain Highway and Furnace Branch Road, an eyesore and firetrap.

"I am absolutely sick of looking at it," said Dolores Schmeisser, 71, who lives nearby in the Glenmore neighborhood of Glen Burnie. "I have people come to my house for the first time who ask me, `What is that thing on the corner?'"

She said the house looks "horrible," a far cry from the days when it was an elegant home much admired by neighbors.

"Some of my friends used to visit that house when [Stoll] was still living there. It was absolutely beautiful inside," she said. "It's a real shame that it was let go like that."

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