More apartments set for downtown


November 17, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

A prominent corner building at Charles and Redwood streets, targeted for demolition by a previous owner, is now headed for rehabilitation as downtown Baltimore's newest apartment building.

The five-story structure at 15 S. Charles St., originally a warehouse and later used as offices for Loyola Federal Savings and Loan Association and others, will be converted to housing by mid-2005, if Ashbourne Properties of Annapolis moves ahead with its plans.

Ashbourne has a contract to buy the building and two next to it from M&T Bank, which has its local headquarters on the same block.

Ashbourne is working with Schamu Machowski Greco Architects on plans to make the building part of a 58-unit apartment complex, with retail space at street level and residences above. Under its plan the other two buildings, at 17 and 19 S. Charles St., would be torn down and replaced with an infill structure whose floors would line up with the corner building.

"We are of the opinion that the corner building is the gem" and the other two structures could be replaced, architect Walter Schamu said this month during a presentation to Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel. "They really are a hodgepodge." Charles Street near Redwood is characterized by a mixture of tall modern office buildings and handsome historic structures, such as the 1912 Hansa Haus and the former Bank of Baltimore building that resembles a Greek temple. "It's a pretty wonderful site, and we want to be good to it," Schamu said.

Ashbourne's plan represents a dramatic change from one floated in the early 1990s by developer Leonard Attman. He wanted to tear down the three buildings and construct a 29-story office tower called the Baltimore Financial Center, using air rights above the sidewalk along Redwood Street.

The plan drew opposition from neighboring property owners who argued the proposed tower was too big for its site and that the sale of public air rights would set a bad precedent for downtown development. Att- man never moved ahead with the project.

The buildings later were acquired by Allfirst Financial Inc., whose directors attempted to buy many of the low-rise buildings around Allfirst's headquarters at 25 S. Charles St. But when Allfirst was acquired by M&T Bank, the new directors changed strategy and decided to entertain offers for the buildings the bank didn't need. The buildings at 15, 17, and 19 S. Charles street are among the first to go under contract to others as part of that new strategy.

The Charles Street buildings are vacant, except for ground-level retailers at No. 15. M&T senior vice president Keith Belanger said the bank wants to improve the area around its headquarters by making the vacant properties available for new uses.

"We didn't have the same vision that Allfirst did with respect to this block," Belanger said. "As we looked at it, we felt it was important that what's around our headquarters complement it and benefit the community."

The project, which received conceptual approval from the design advisory panel, is part of a trend in which many older commercial buildings downtown are being converted to housing.

The building at 15. S. Charles St. was constructed just after the Great Fire of 1904 and originally was known as the Charles DeWitt & Co. warehouse. It was designed by Wyatt and Nolting, with William Steele and Sons.

The six-story building at 17 S. Charles St. also dates from 1904. It was designed by James Farley for Coggins & Owens, dealers of machinery and machinists' supplies. It is just 20 feet wide - narrower than some row houses - and its Charles St. facade has been altered significantly from its original appearance.

The seven-story building at 19 S. Charles St. dates from 1961. It was designed by Fisher, Nes and Campbell of Baltimore for First National Bank, which later became part of the Savings Bank of Baltimore and then the Bank of Baltimore.

The conversion would be the first project in Baltimore for Ashbourne, a 7-year-old company active in Washington and other parts of Maryland.

Ashbourne president Crispin Etherington said his company most likely would build a combination of market-rate apartments and corporate housing at Charles and Redwood streets. He said he expects the residences to appeal to professionals who work downtown and others who are in Baltimore for limited periods, such as crews filming movies in Maryland.

Auction block

A fixture of the Mount Vernon historic district, the four-story MacGillivray's building at Charles and Read streets will be sold at public auction at 11 a.m. Friday by A.J. Billig & Co. According to auctioneer Dan Billig, the sale is being held at the request of the owner and is not prompted by a foreclosure or any sort of distress situation.

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