An eye toward restoration

ARCHITECTURE

Using photographs of Lafayette Square to inspire comeback

March 01, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Although many older Baltimore neighborhoods have made comebacks recently in terms of sales prices and livability, Lafayette Square in West Baltimore hasn't yet made the list.

A group of preservationists has been working to change that situation by mounting a photographic exhibit that celebrates the area's architectural character.

Lafayette Square: Recognize, Respect, Restore is the title of the show, which includes more than 50 large-format photographs by James Rosenthal and supplemental information from the Historic American Buildings Survey and Goucher College historic preservation student Angela Shaeffer.

FOR THE RECORD - The caption with a photo illustrating an article about Lafayette Square in Monday's Today section misidentified St. John's AME Church.

It opens Thursday at the Architects Bookstore and Gallery, 11 1/2 W. Chase St., with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and runs through April 29. In June, the exhibit will move to the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street.

One of several urban squares established in West Baltimore in the 19th century to encourage residential development west of downtown, Lafayette Square, also known as Church Square for the number of congregations that settled in the area, defined fashionable city living for more than 100 years.

Though altered by the demolition of some prominent rowhouses and institutional buildings, Lafayette Square still retains much of its architectural integrity. But its character has been threatened in recent years as buildings have been vacated or demolished.

The idea for the exhibit came from local architect David Gleason, who heads David H. Gleason Associates Inc. on Eutaw Street. Gleason said he frequently travels through Lafayette Square on his way to job sites in Sandtown-Winchester and other parts of West Baltimore. He became concerned about the deterioration of the area, which is bounded by Lafayette and Lanvale streets and Arlington and Carrollton avenues.

If public awareness about Lafayette Square's rich history and architectural heritage were raised by a photo exhibit, he reasoned, the area might have a better chance of being preserved. He was joined in the effort by the Historic American Buildings Survey, Baltimore Heritage, Baltimore's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation and Goucher College.

"My concern was that Lafayette Square is disappearing, and it needs some recognition," he said. "In many respects, it's as important to Baltimore as Mount Vernon Place.

"Mount Vernon represented the high-style 19th-century urban square, and Lafayette Square represents the epitome of the solid middle class. The buildings are the quintessential marble and brick structures, with white marble steps, marble trim and Italianate cornices. What made this square so special are the number of churches built around it."

The exhibit documents an area that ranges chronologically from the late 1860s to 1910, and stylistically from the Gothic to the Queen Anne and Romanesque revivals. It traces the growth of an affluent West Baltimore neighborhood from its modest 19th-century beginnings as a rural retreat of green fields and oak trees through its metamorphosis in the early 20th century into the spiritual and cultural center of West Baltimore's African-American community.

Gleason said he hopes the exhibit will show that Lafayette Square still has potential for a revival.

"The point is, this is a great urban neighborhood," he said. "It has all the qualities of a great urban space. But it does need some love and attention. ... What we want to do is generate interest, so it can come back."

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