Pair hopes to breathe life into old Bel Air landmark

History: A husband and wife plan to restore Graystone Lodge to its former life as a restaurant.

March 07, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

On weekend visits to his parents' house in Bel Air, consultant Steven Bavett would round the bend on Business U.S. 1 outside town and find himself looking for the old stone house slouching by the road.

Though forlorn and empty, it still caught his eye, and his imagination. One day as they drove past, he said to his wife, Anna Marie, wouldn't it be great if the old place went up for sale?

The next week, it did.

"What fueled it is the fact I fell in love," said Bavett, 40, of his decision to buy Graystone Lodge for $200,000 nearly three years ago. "It spoke so much to me: This is a place that's got to be saved."

Since they bought the house - which they hope to turn into a restaurant in the spirit of the Milton Inn in Baltimore County or the Union Hotel in Cecil County - the Bavetts have spent hours coaxing the lodge's past from handwritten land records and business licenses.

They've pieced together stories of owners and incarnations that include a speakeasy, oyster house and white-tablecloth restaurant that catered to business travelers in the 1930s.

They have also found themselves caught up in a hotbed of disagreement over how to develop - or preserve - the busy stretch of U.S. 1 where the lodge stands.

Developers of neighboring parcels have introduced plans to build a convenience store with gas pumps, a pharmacy and a fast-food restaurant. The county owns a stretch of parkland behind the lot where the convenience store is proposed.

The state is considering whether it would grant permission for developers to install a stoplight at the U.S. 1 intersection with Old Joppa Road, something some residents aren't keen on.

Bavett would like to see a light installed, he said, but he is moving forward with design and renovation work at the lodge, without it and other issues being resolved. He said he's waited long enough.

And he has a few problems of his own to solve.

The Graystone Lodge property is less than an acre and borders a tributary of Winters Run, making parking and environmental concerns tricky, said Nancy Lipski of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

But no plans have been submitted yet to the department for review, she said.

Bavett and architect Kirsten Hoffman of Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, a Baltimore engineering firm, are still at the stage where dreams get drawn for due consideration.

"Anytime you get to work on a 200-year-old building, it is very exciting," Hoffman said, adding that the lodge's roots as a tavern are appealing. "It's a very nice-looking old building. ... People will be able to come here much as they did 200 years ago."

Plans for the lodge include enclosing and extending the long stone building's ample back porch, which overlooks the county's parkland, and tucking three dozen parking spaces below the view and above the stream buffer.

Hoffman's design includes an addition that will serve as the main entry, with tall windows to splash light across the cherry floors Bavett installed.

Stone fireplaces are at each end of the main dining room.

"You walk in the door and you feel like this would be a great place to have dinner," said Sarah "Sally" Filkins, the county planning department's historic preservationist. "It's a great adaptive reuse of a building that was suffering from demolition by neglect."

When the Bavetts bought the house, it had been vacant for about three decades. Dumpster after Dumpster was filled with old appliances, housewares and clothes - piled 3 or 4 feet deep in some upstairs rooms, Bavett said.

Then the couple began their research. Masons visited and shared stories about the "four-man stones," the large exterior blocks so heavy that they were hoisted by groups of men; and county residents contacted them with stories about the rumored speakeasy in the building.

"It's something where the more we got into it, the more intriguing it became," said Anna Marie Bavett, 39, a member services specialist for a local bank. She said she teases her husband over his love of history, saying he's an older man trapped in a young man's body.

The building was previously thought to have been built in the 1800s, Bavett said. Then he hired Herman J. Heikkenen - who has used tree-ring analysis to study timbers in buildings such as Stratford Hall (Robert E. Lee's birthplace in Virginia) and Colonial Williamsburg homes - to examine the lodge.

The retired Virginia Tech professor dates timbers in the structure to 1780, which would make it one of the oldest in the county.

Bavett read records at the county historical society (where he has become a board member), the state archives, and finally the Library of Congress. There, he found photos taken of the building by noted early-20th-century photojournalist Frances Benjamin Johnston on her travels around the region during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration.

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