UB set to raze Odorite today

University proceeds despite protests of many

`They stuck with their plans'

Student center to replace vintage 1915 building

May 15, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Demolition is set to begin today on a 1915 Mount Vernon building that neighbors and preservationists struggled to save, University of Baltimore officials said yesterday.

The decision to tear down the building this morning is a crucial step as the president of the commuter campus, Robert L. Bogomolny, forges ahead with plans to build a strikingly modern $14 million student center on the site.

The state property at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues is expected to be cleared within two weeks, university officials said.

In recent months, Bogomolny has rejected advice from a state panel - as well as protests and pleas from Baltimore Heritage and community groups - that he find a way to salvage part of the vacant vintage building known as the Odorite.

Opponents of the building's demolition charged yesterday that the decision to begin knocking it down this morning seemed timed to avoid media scrutiny.

"This was calculated to be on Preakness weekend, so that 99 percent of media attention will be at the [Pimlico] racetrack," said Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, a Bolton Hill resident. "If they would keep the Odorite building, then everybody wins. I thought the governor would understand."

A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that the governor had hoped the university, neighbors and preservationists would find a way to work together. Some had hoped the governor would give the state-owned building a last-minute reprieve because of the interest he had shown in the outcome.

"Governor Ehrlich is very disappointed that the university is moving ahead without reaching a compromise with the community," said spokesman Henry Fawell. "Since this is being undertaken with money outside the budget allocated by the state, therefore he does not have the authority to overturn it."

The project is being paid for with mandatory student fees collected by the state university.

Chris Hart, the university spokesman, said the new center would give the university's nearly 5,000 students more cohesion and better morale, serving as a central gathering spot for learning, the arts and other activities.

To illustrate the lack of common space at the university, Hart said, "I saw a student studying in the parking lot today."

The Odorite's familiar mock-Tudor facade was designed to be an automobile showroom for Monumental Motor Car Co. Critics of the demolition said the structure could be converted into a student bookstore or a handsome lobby for the student center. Another argument given for saving it was that it was an artifact of popular culture during the dawn of the Automobile Age.

Hart said university officials found that designing the student center around the Odorite would be impractical. "It would force us to chop it into rabbit warrens."

Hart said the governor's office contacted the university to say that Ehrlich supported the recommendation of the Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the Odorite be integrated into the design of the new student center. Bogomolny decided to depart from that nonbinding advice.

In a letter to the panel last month, Bogomolny said the Odorite facade would not lend itself to a signature building.

Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said yesterday that the university's approach seemed unyielding throughout the process.

"They didn't even try to reach a compromise. They stuck with their plans," Warren said. "So I guess we'll have a `Bogolorite,' not an Odorite. It's a sad day for Mount Vernon."

Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, lamented the impending loss of the building yesterday. "It's a shame to lose such an important piece of historic architecture needlessly."

Sun staff writer Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

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