A makeover for Garrett-Jacobs


February 14, 2005|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

An open-air courtyard off Mount Vernon Place will be enclosed under a glass and steel roof as part of a $5 million plan to increase and upgrade the meeting space at Baltimore's historic Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.

The Engineering Society of Baltimore, which owns and operates the mansion at 7-11 W. Mount Vernon Place, also wants to restore several of its "period" rooms, build an addition containing an elevator, restrooms, commercial-grade kitchen and barrier-free entrance, and possibly add upper-level guest rooms.

The improvements are designed to make the mansion more attractive as a setting for weddings, symposiums and other gatherings. Money raised from the events will be used to continue restoring the building, which dates from the 1800s and is the only structure in the nation that combines the work of noted architects Stanford White and John Russell Pope.

The Engineering Society is also holding its annual "Fire Ball" Saturday, with proceeds benefiting the preservation effort. The black-tie affair will mark the 100th anniversary of the society's founding, on Feb. 24, 1905.

"This building is important to a lot of people," said Engineering Society president Richard Magnani. "It's a hidden jewel."

"It's unique in the country," said Douglas Suess, first vice president of the society, also known as the Engineers Club. "We want to do everything we can to preserve it."

Considered the largest and most costly townhouse constructed in Baltimore, the mansion is a combination of three residences. It has 40 rooms, 16 fireplaces and 100 windows.

The oldest section, No. 11, dates from 1853. It was purchased in 1872 by Baltimore &Ohio Railroad president John Garrett, who gave it to his son, Robert, as a wedding present. When Robert Garrett became president of the B&O Railroad in 1884, he and his wife, Mary, bought No. 9 and combined the two. They hired White to redesign the interior and Louis Comfort Tiffany to create stained-glass windows.

Robert Garrett died in 1896, and four years later his widow married his physician, Henry Barton Jacobs. Together, they bought No. 7 and hired Pope to design a ballroom, marble hall and library. Mary Jacobs lived there until her death in 1936. Henry Jacobs died in 1939.

In 1958, the city of Baltimore purchased the mansion so the Walters Art Gallery could demolish it for an expansion. After the museum abandoned that plan because of a lack of funding and opposition from preservationists, the city leased the mansion in 1961 to the Engineering Society, which bought it the next year for $155,000 and has occupied it ever since.

In 1992, the society created the nonprofit Garrett-Jacobs Mansion Endowment Fund to assist in restoration efforts. The fund has already allowed the society to upgrade the mansion's mechanical systems and restore its brownstone facade.

Whitney Bailey Cox Magnani and Kann & Associates are two design firms that have worked on the latest plans. They've recommended adding a glass roof that will turn the courtyard into a climate-controlled atrium that can be used year-round. After the courtyard is enclosed, several adjacent rooms will be renovated, including a drawing room and ballroom. Work will range from repairing cracked plaster to replacing draperies and other furnishings. The rooms will also get fire sprinklers and new wiring.

The society recently sold the townhouse at 13 W. Mount Vernon Place but retained land behind it for the expansion of the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.

The society and endowment-fund managers plan to launch a drive this year to raise more money for the renovation. According to fund chairman Robert Leech and society executive director Dale Whitehead, the pace of construction will depend on the success of the fund-raising.

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