Protester pays last respects at Odorite site

Critic, UB officials witness building's demolition

May 16, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Her hands clasped atop her head in disgust, a lone protester was on hand to watch as a backhoe began pawing at the windows and roof of the Odorite building yesterday morning, marking the end of a months-long confrontation between University of Baltimore officials and historical preservationists over the fate of the Mount Vernon landmark.

Despite the wishes of the Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, community activists and the governor, the 1915 mock-Tudor building will be "down to flat ground" by the end of the month, said university spokesman Chris Hart.

In its place, the university will build a $14 million student center, to be completed in January 2006, Hart said.

A statement released by the university yesterday morning said that the university re-examined its plans after the preservation advisory council suggested finding a way to incorporate the building into the new student center.

But, the statement said, the university's project managers and architects concluded that following the council's advice would increase costs by $1.6 million and diminish the size and usefulness of the student center.

"The decision to proceed with the project was a difficult one," the statement said. "UB has been guided throughout the process by the fact that costs of constructing and operating the student center must be paid entirely from student fees. Our students and all Marylanders are being asked to assume a greater share of the cost of public education, and the university is intent on maximizing the value of this long-awaited facility."

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, the Bolton Hill resident who was the lone protester outside the building when demolition began about 8 a.m. yesterday, said that what the university is doing is a travesty. She said she has loved the building since she was a child and canceled a trip so she could watch the demolition.

"I needed to be here to witness an execution," Shapiro said. "Before this, I had to be here to hold its hand one last time. I take this very personally."

Shapiro propped a sign that read "Shame on UB" against the chain-link fence around the site and cringed as a backhoe driver methodically scraped off one of the building's second-story bay windows, pulled off the wood facing and tore down the copper gutters. University officials sat in a plaza across Mount Royal and watched.

Mark Foster, the director of Second Chance, an architectural salvage company, joined Shapiro for a time and bemoaned the destruction of the roof tiles and windows, which he said he could have removed for reuse.

"We could have taken the whole building apart - that's what we do - and saved it for use somewhere else," he said.

Foster said he believes there is still an opportunity for the university to salvage some of the architectural details. The university's statement said some materials would be donated to the Maryland Historical Trust, and that it would create a display commemorating the Odorite in the new student center.

But Shapiro said she is "disgusted" by the university's decision to demolish what she always thought of as the gateway to Mount Vernon and replace it with a modern structure.

"This is what people always saw," she said. "Now they're going to see about as hideous a building as you'll find."

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