Lessons in city's civil rights heritage at P.S. 103

CRITIC'S CORNER

Architecture

October 31, 2005|By EDWARD GUNTS | EDWARD GUNTS,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

When Thurgood Marshall was growing up in Baltimore, his high school principal punished him by sending him to the basement and requiring that he memorize portions of the Constitution.

"Before I left that school," Marshall later recalled, according to biographer Juan Williams, "I knew the whole thing by heart."

The formative years of Marshall, the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court, would be retold in an interpretive center that may be created to breathe life into another public school Marshall attended, P.S. 103 at 1315 Division St. in Upton.

Mayor Martin O'Malley announced this month that the city will provide $16,000 to help identify a new use for the former Henry H. Garnet School, built in 1877 and attended by Marshall from 1914 to 1920 - his first experience with segregated public schools.

The Upton Planning Committee and the Baltimore City Heritage Area, a division of the mayor's office, will use the money to explore the feasibility of converting the now-vacant school to "an educational and interpretive center for Baltimore's civil rights legacy," including residents such as Marshall, who went on to serve on the Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991. (He died in 1993.)

The study will assess the building's physical condition and survey other efforts to tell the story of Baltimore's civil rights legacy. Planners will then recommend a "thematic, interpretive and programatic approach" for recycling the building and outline architectural and financial strategies for carrying it out.

The city-owned building, near Bethel A.M.E. Church, has strong potential as a tourist site, O'Malley said in announcing the grant.

"What the [Martin Luther] King Center is to Atlanta, P.S. 103 could be to Baltimore," he said.

P.S. 103 was the site of Marshall's "first segregated public school experience," said Bill Pencek, director of the Baltimore City Heritage Area, which promotes the city's cultural heritage.

"To tell the story of the architect of desegregation of America's schools, whether to school kids or cultural heritage tourists, it's a powerful resource."

P.S. 103 is one of 12 historic sites or projects that received grants this fall totaling $200,000 from the Baltimore City Heritage Area to help fund capital projects. The money comes from Baltimore's Capital Improvement Program and is considered an investment in the city's efforts to promote cultural heritage tourism.

In most cases, the city funds must be matched by private sources to cover the total cost of a project. The study involving P.S. 103, for example, is expected to cost $57,500.

Other 2005 recipients of Heritage Area grants are: the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, $12,500 to replace fanlights in the south wing of its Passenger Car Shop; the Flag House and Star Spangled Banner Museum, $25,000 to upgrade the heating and air conditioning system in the Flag House; Greater Baltimore Committee, $25,000 to cover costs associated with launching a new visitor shuttle, the Big Bus; and the Jewish Museum of Maryland, $16,000 to repair and paint 12 windows in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Also, the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Collaborative, $25,000 to improve the stables and work areas for a-rabs in West Baltimore; the Railroad Historic District Corp., $12,000 to renovate the interior of 920 Lemmon St., part of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum; and Parks & People, $16,000 to design, make and install interpretive signs along the Gwynns Falls Trail.

Also, the Potomac Area Council of Hosteling, $12,000 to renovate the public spaces of the Baltimore Hostel at 17 W. Mulberry St.; Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church: $12,500 to create a management plan for Mount Auburn Cemetery; the USS Constellation Museum, $12,000 to restore the wardroom and warrant officers' quarters on the vessel; and Zion Church of the City of Baltimore, $16,000 to install an elevator.

O'Malley said he wishes the city could do more to support heritage-related projects and those who guide them.

"Cultural heritage tourism continues to grow as one of our biggest economic engines," he told the grant recipients. "There's never enough recognition for people who are passionate about telling Baltimore's story."

New digs

Design Collective of Baltimore has been selected to be the interior designer and architect for the new world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, a nonprofit organization that is moving from West Fayette Street to the former Stewart's department store at Howard and Lexington streets on downtown Baltimore's west side.

Several years ago, the same design firm prepared an award-winning plan for converting the 1899 department store to an office building for the 21st century. Catholic Relief Services announced plans earlier this year to move its headquarters, and 300 employees, there by the end of 2006.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, assisting people in 99 countries and territories.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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