City College named a national landmark


Stone tower tops Gothic-style school

April 07, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

It's called the "Castle on the Hill."

Thousands of Baltimoreans have been educated within its walls, including graduates who went on to receive the Nobel Prize, Prix de Rome and Congressional Medal of Honor.

Now it has been designated a national landmark, just in time for its 75th anniversary.

Baltimore City College, the Collegiate Gothic-style high school at 33rd Street and The Alameda, was added this spring to the National Register of Historic Places, in recognition of its historical and architectural significance.

Friends and alumni will unveil a plaque bearing the designation on Thursday, the 75th anniversary of the school's opening in 1928. A formal ceremony is being planned for later in the year.

"The building was designed as a result of an architectural competition among Maryland's finest architects and was the most expensive school built at the time," preservation consultant Fred Shoken noted in a report prepared as part of the landmark designation process.

"It is Baltimore's best example of Collegiate Gothic design featuring many distinctive details unique for high school buildings," Shoken continued. "The renovation of the building in 1978 was also a first in Baltimore."

The landmark designation is one of two initiatives that the Baltimore City College Alumni Association has undertaken to mark the building's anniversary. It also has launched a campaign to raise $75,000 to fund acquisitions and improvements that the school system can't otherwise afford, such as an organ for the auditorium. According to vice president Neil Bernstein, the group is seeking 75 contributions of $1,000 and already has passed the halfway mark.

Known for its 150-foot stone tower, the building is the fifth home of Baltimore's first public high school, which was established in 1839. It is considered the third-oldest public high school in the country, after English High School of Boston and Central High School of Philadelphia. Students and teachers moved to it from a building at Howard and Centre streets that has since been converted to apartments.

The 1928 building was designed by Riggin Buckler and G. Corner Fenhagen, whose design partnership evolved into the firm now known as Ayers Saint Gross. Built at a cost of $2.6 million, it marked a high point in Baltimore's support for public education. In the words of the city school board, it was planned to be "the crown jewel" of the city's educational system.

In his autobiography Growing Up, 1942 graduate Russell Baker reminisced about its physical presence. "It was a mammoth gray stone structure topped by a gray tower, the whole thing sprawling across the highest hill in Baltimore like some grim Gothic fortress heaved up to shelter civilization from the Vandals."

After a 1954 Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools, City College opened its doors to all races. "I reveled in the City College experience, where almost everyone seemed to come from a minority background of some sort," Sun columnist Michael Olesker wrote in his book, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore (2001). "Wasn't that the working model for the entire city?"

Two future governors attended City College at this location, Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer. So did former Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg.

Other graduates included former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; U. S. Congressmen Benjamin Cardin, Elijah Cummings and Charles "Dutch" Ruppersburger; sports team owners Zanvyl Krieger and Carroll Rosenbloom; sculptor Reuben Kramer; actor Michael Tucker; television personality Garry Moore; and civic leaders Robert C. Embry Jr. and Bernard Manekin.

Patterson Park

Revitalization efforts around Patterson Park in East Baltimore will be the subject of a free noontime forum on Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Fayette streets. The speaker will be Edward Rutkowski of the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. The event is part of a weekly series sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.

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