Condo plan links past, present



February 21, 2005|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

If you look closely at the five-story building on Madison Street in Baltimore, you can see the remnants of large, east-facing windows that were open when the property was an African-American church, starting in the mid-19th century.

In the 1920s, it was acquired by a Johns Hopkins Hospital physician, given an art deco facade and converted to medical offices and apartments.

Now it's changing again - to become Baltimore's newest luxury condominiums.

The Revels is the new name of the $3.5 million project under construction at 104 W. Madison St. in the Mount Vernon historic district. The building is being recycled by Tower Hill Development and Consulting, a four-year-old company headed by Matthew Hoffman and Chris Regan.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Monday about the Revels condominiums misstated the educational and professional background of Baltimore physician Edward A. Looper. He was a graduate of the University of Maryland Medical School and later became part of its faculty. He also was head of the ear, nose and throat department at University Hospital.

When work is complete this summer, The Revels will contain 13 upscale condominiums, with open living spaces, wood floors and stainless-steel appliances. Peter Fillat Architects is the designer. Prices start at $185,000, and all have been reserved.

Hoffman said he and Regan are transforming the building to appeal to young professionals and others who want to avoid suburban traffic congestion and be part of the "vibrant activity" of midtown and downtown.

"We felt that, based on the luxury apartment rentals, there is strong demand for condominiums" in the area as well, he said. "This neighborhood has so many cultural gems, and the harbor is so overpriced at this point, that it all makes sense."

When residents move in, they will be part of a building steeped in history. But it may not be apparent to most passers-by because the exterior was extensively altered nearly 80 years ago.

According to Tower Hill, the brick and wood-frame building was constructed about 1844 by Mount Zion Baptist Church. It was sold in 1847 to Baltimore's First Presbyterian Church, which wanted temporary worship space while it was building its permanent home a half-block away - the building now known as First and Franklin Street Presbyterian, at Madison Street and Park Avenue.

In 1850, 104 W. Madison was "assigned" to the African-American members of First Presbyterian Church and renamed Madison Street Presbyterian Church. One of the congregation's early ministers was Hiram Rhodes Revels, a North Carolina native who led the church from 1858 to 1863. He subsequently moved to Mississippi and became the first African-American member of the U.S. Senate.

Madison Street Presbyterian was sold in 1927 to Edward Looper, a Hopkins physician who converted it to medical offices and residences. In an early example of "adaptive reuse," architect T. Worth Jamison reclad the church with a four-story art deco facade of limestone and brick and inserted a steel structure to support upper floors. A penthouse with an elaborate geometric brick cornice tops off the building. Tower Hill bought the property in 2003 and began its conversion last August.

By far the most significant person associated with the building is Revels, who was born in 1827 in Fayetteville, N.C., and became an ordained minister in Baltimore in 1845. After serving as minister of Madison Street Presbyterian Church, he became a chaplain in the Civil War and settled in Natchez, Miss., in 1866. He went on to become an alderman and state senator and was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1869. Revels left the Senate in 1871 and returned to Mississippi to preach and lead a college. He died Jan. 16, 1901.

Tower Hill named the project The Revels "to create a link between Mount Vernon's rich history and its vibrancy today," Regan said.

"There is no better way to illustrate that link than by naming the physical structures that have witnessed so much history after the people who occupied them," he said. "If we can get one person to ask, `What does Revels mean?' then we have given someone a nice place to live in Mount Vernon and contributed to preserving the neighborhood's cultural significance."

Film series on design

Three films about community planning and design will be shown next month at Baltimore's Neighborhood Design Center, 1401 Hollins St., as part of a film series called Community Expressions.

The films are Rural Studio, a documentary about the late Alabama architect Samuel Mockbee, on March 1; This Black Soil, about efforts to revitalize Bayview, Va., on March 15; and Little Castles and The Screen Painters, celebrating the Baltimore traditions of Formstone and screen-painting, on March 29. All begin at 6:30 p.m.

The series is sponsored by the design center and the Center for Art and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Admission is free to NDC members and UMBC students and staff; $5 for others.

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