Charles Street Masonic Temple is next landmark renovation

ARCHITECTURE

February 16, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Nearly lost to the wrecking ball several years ago, the Maryland Masonic Temple at 221-227 N. Charles St. is the next local landmark in line for a full-blown restoration.

The William C. Smith Co. is turning the building into the Tremont Grand, a 90,000-square-foot conference and banquet facility that will be operated as an extension of its Tremont Plaza Hotel on the same block.

The seven-story building was constructed in 1869 as a meeting hall for the Grand Lodge of Masons of Maryland and restored after fires in 1890 and 1908. Its architects included Edmund Lind, Charles Carson and Joseph Sperry.

The building contains 10 large meeting rooms, each in a different style. They include a Roman room with a marble floor and coffered ceiling, a Tudor Gothic room modeled on Edinburgh's Roslyn Chapel, a hall that recalls an Egyptian temple, a Corinthian room and an elaborately decorated chapter room.

The Smith Co. bought the building for $500,000 in 1998. It has hired Murphy & Dittenhafer Inc. to be the architect for the restoration and modernization and James Posey Associates to be the mechanical engineer.

Architects Michael Murphy and James Suttner said the owners want to restore the building as much as possible to its original grandeur. They also want to provide amenities and make it fully accessible to people with disabilities.

The interior will get new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, upgraded electricity and lighting and a new freight elevator and commercial kitchen. The marble exterior will be cleaned and relighted, and cracks will be repaired.

The Smith Co. already has constructed a "skybridge" that connects the hotel at 222 St. Paul Place to the back of the meeting hall and a recently completed 530-car municipal garage. Once renovations are complete in 2005, the Tremont Grand will be available for conferences, business meetings, receptions, dances and other gatherings. It even has a chapel for weddings.

Suttner said the building is generally in good condition and that much of the work involves "threading in" mechanical systems without disturbing the character of the individual rooms. The project also involves restoring finishes, repairing surfaces and choosing new colors and glazes to enhance the rooms, he said.

Murphy said he is hopeful that the owners will be able to hire some of the artisans who recently worked on the Hippodrome Theatre restoration.

"They very much want to restore the rooms to their original character and quality, which is really still there," Murphy added. "In this building, there's hardly a room that isn't unique and full of detail. We're setting it up so they could potentially have two major functions going on at the same time - a wedding and a banquet, for example."

The architects and engineers will conduct a behind-the-scenes tour from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24.

The tour is organized by the Historic Resources Committee of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Admission, including a post-tour reception at the Tremont Plaza, is $10 for AIA members, $5 for students and $15 for others in advance, and $20 at the door. More information is available from the AIA at 410-625-2585.

Hippodrome event

On Saturday, the Hippodrome Foundation and the Baltimore Community Foundation will conduct a Community Open House from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to celebrate the renovation and reopening of the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. The event includes tours, live entertainment and light refreshments, and admission is free.

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