Bringing Meyerhoff in tune with the times


April 18, 2005|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Two months after the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra helped inaugurate a $100 million concert hall in Montgomery County, its leaders are taking steps to upgrade its primary home on Cathedral Street.

The orchestra has hired Cho Benn Holback + Associates to recommend ways to improve the exterior and main lobby of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, which opened in 1982.

The commission, say BSO executives, is a sign that the orchestra's management and board members have no intention of neglecting their concert hall in Baltimore - or those who patronize it - now that they have a "second home" in the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

If anything, BSO President James Glicker says, the BSO wants to reach out and become more a part of Baltimore's Mount Royal Cultural District.

"The building is top-notch. There's nothing wrong with it," Glicker says. "We're just hiring [the architects] to bring it into the 21st century. ... We want to show Baltimoreans that we're committed to providing them with the best concert experience they can have."

Designed by Pietro Belluschi and Jung/Brannan Associates, the Meyerhoff was one of the first major buildings to be constructed in the Mount Royal Cultural District in many years when it opened at 1212 Cathedral St. Since then, the area has seen the addition of the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art, new offices, apartments, restaurants, galleries and a large garage.

Next month, Baltimore artist Rodney Carroll will begin installing a 50-foot-tall sculpture entitled The Firebird, inspired by a 1910 ballet of the same name by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. The $275,000 sculpture was commissioned by David S. Brown Enterprises, one of the developers of the Symphony Center office and apartment complex next to the concert hall, and Maryland's Mass Transit Administration. It will rise near the southeast corner of Howard Street and Park Avenue, opposite the Meyerhoff. A dedication ceremony is set for June 7.

Glicker says the Meyerhoff face-lift won't include any changes to the auditorium, which received $7 million worth of renovations several years ago. But given the evolution of the surrounding area, he says, the symphony's directors want to make sure the hall's exterior and entranceway are as inviting and up-to-date as they can be.

"We haven't done much to the outside of the building since we built it," he says. "It's not necessarily obvious when you drive by that it's a concert hall."

Among the ideas under consideration, he says, are illuminating the building better so that it stands out at night, adding a marquee or some other type of sign to announce future events, and introducing brick paving on part of Preston Street to accentuate the entrance.

Glicker says he might like to see a changing sign similar to the moving "ticker tape" message board in front of the Brown Center. He says the brick mechanical towers near the corner of Cathedral and Preston streets might be a good place to add a wraparound marquee or display space for posters.

Managers also would like to make the hall more of a destination for pre-concert activities.

"We challenged the architect to come up with a way to tie us into the neighborhoods more - tell us how to link the Meyerhoff with MICA and reach out to the community," Glicker says.

A firm cost estimate and construction timetable for the project won't be available until more design work is completed. Glicker says initial money for construction will come from an endowment fund set up to pay for improvements to the building. He says he'd like to see work begin in time for some of the architects' recommendations to be implemented this fall.

Cho Benn Holback was one of four firms considered for the commission. Glicker says the firm was chosen because board members believed the architects had a good sense of the building and how it can be improved.

"They were the right fit for us," he says. "They seemed to understand the feel of the hall and what the Meyerhoff is all about."

Other arts-related projects by Cho Benn Holback include the School for the Arts expansion on Cathedral Street; the Jim Rouse Visionary Center on Key Highway; and the Centennial Hall Dance Studio at Bryn Mawr School.

Architect Diane Cho says she has always liked the original design and primarily wants to find ways to enhance it. "We don't want to obscure the architecture," she says. "We want to make it more welcoming."

Harbor House Tour

The 34th Annual Historic Harbor House Tour of Fells Point will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 8.

The self-guided walking tour, to benefit the Preservation Society of Federal Hill and Fells Point, will feature nearly a dozen dwellings, from historic rowhouses to innovative rehabs and lofts. The tour is sponsored by Long & Foster Realtors and costs $12 per person in advance and $15 the day of the event. Tickets are available at Long & Foster's Fells Point office, 701 S. Broadway, and the Fells Point Visitor Center, 808 S. Ann St.

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