County unlikely to grant historic status to house

Too many alterations to building on GBMC property, Gardina says

April 30, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Despite lobbying by preservationists and descendants of one of Baltimore County's earliest families, the Bowens, the County Council appears unlikely to grant historic landmark status for a 1730s farmhouse at the center of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center campus in Towson.

Although the original house is one of just a handful of pre-1750 structures in the county, the Bowens' descendants face an uphill battle saving their family's old home. GBMC is working to keep the structure off Baltimore County's landmarks list, saying it has been divorced from its historical context and added onto so many times that it has lost its identity as a farmhouse.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat whose district includes the GBMC campus, agrees with the hospital officials and declined to include it in the list of structures up for protection at the council's Monday meeting, despite the recommendation of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

It is, he said, the first time he has gone against the commission's recommendation in his 12 years on the council. But the building's interior, exterior and surroundings have been altered so much that it is unrecognizable as a historic farmhouse, he said.

"This particular building is an old building that's been modified numerous times and is on private property, period," Gardina said. "Other than it being old, the historic value of the property is nonexistent."

According to council custom, it would be extremely unusual for the other councilmen to go against Gardina's wishes.

But the matter led to an unusual confrontation between two members at yesterday's work session: Gardina and Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican who is particularly interested in preservation issues, engaged in a brief shouting match after McIntire berated GBMC's lawyers for not briefing the other council members on the issue.

McIntire said later in the afternoon that he was not looking to buck Gardina's judgment but merely wanted more information for his own peace of mind and for the peace of mind of some of his constituents who had called. He said he was subsequently briefed on the particulars of the property and is satisfied that it does not warrant protection.

Judith Wright and her son, Alexander Bowen Wright, both descendants of the Bowen family who live in Ruxton, said they understand the odds against preservation but still hold out hope that the additions to the home could be removed and it could be used to help educate children about the history of the county.

Barring that, they said they hope GBMC would allow them the opportunity to try moving the house to other Bowen property in the county rather than have it bulldozed.

"This is a valuable county asset, not just an asset to the neighborhood," said Joe Coale, another Bowen descendant. "It gives a sense of time and place."

But Laurence M. Merlis, GBMC president and chief executive officer, said the 4 acres the house sits on are an optimal location for expansion of office space for hospital volunteers and for other uses. Devoting resources to preserving the house would not further the hospital's mission, he said.

"Our sense is our physical and financial resources should not be taken away from that core mission of providing medical services to the community," Merlis said.

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