100 years old, Washington Apartments at last will offer tours of a stylish Baltimore address

Doors open on old-world grace of city

November 30, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

It's taken a century for residents of a downtown building to open the mahogany doors of the embassy-like Washington Apartments.

Convinced they reside in Baltimore's most attractive address, where banks of windows overlook the Washington Monument and other glories of Mount Vernon Place, these cooperative owners recently voted to break with tradition and invite the public into their digs at 700 N. Charles St.

It's a Baltimore Cinderella story, for one night only. All that would-be admirers have to do is come up with a charity donation of $100 each to help with gardening efforts in the municipal green squares around the monument.

But those who live here -- and those who have glimpsed inside -- say the price is worth it. Despite the fact that this is a place where Gov. Albert Ritchie once lived, most of the building's residents have been content to live privately amid the splendor and never see their names in a newspaper.

Constructed in 1906 by a Yale-educated millionaire socialist who denounced alcohol as an anti-saloon league crusader, the Beaux Arts-style apartments retain a heavy scent of upstairs-downstairs selectivity.

A pair of pleasantly noisy, wire-cage style elevators ascend to the five upper floors. Another set of service lifts assist with the daily trash pickup and other chores. The old basement servants' quarters are now storage.

Even the address is selective -- the block of Charles Street is technically renamed Washington Place.

The six-story limestone building contains 24 apartments -- four per floor. All are unexpectedly roomy, some at 2,100 square feet.

One recently sold for $430,000 -- and it needed a new kitchen. On top of the purchase price, tenants pay about $1,300 a month in fees, covering taxes, heat and maintenance. And they're still on their own for parking: none exists within the structure.

Nevertheless, owners cherish their bathrooms tiled in thick white ceramic and bordered with a deep green band. The plumbing fixtures bespeak Park Avenue or Palm Beach of another era. They say no other Baltimore apartment has such lavish interior doors, coffered ceilings, woodwork and mantels. The gas fireplaces are not operable.

The most desirable locations within the building are the corner apartments, which overlook the Washington Monument and the 19th-century millionaires' row along the park's west square.

On Saturday evening, visitors will be able to get past the round-the-clock doorman and see what might well be one of the oldest of off-limits sights in old Baltimore.

The event is being billed as the "Intimate Evening Candlelight Tour," operated in conjunction with the annual Holly Tour of Mount Vernon homes the next day.

"I walked up the hill to take a look at the Washington, and it gave me chills," said Julie A. Canard, a native Washingtonian who bought her apartment before Christmas last year.

Her fiance, Jerry Murphy, who grew up in Pigtown and left Baltimore as soon as he could, swore he would never live in his native city again. But he succumbed to the exclusive building's charms.

"I had lived in Washington, D.C., for 27 years and said, `No way am I moving back to Baltimore,' then I opened the door to this place," he said the other day while seated in a room whose elaborate woodwork could make a master cabinetmaker swoon.

They, and others, decided it was time to open the building for others to see.

"We had lived in the suburbs for 27 years, and Baltimore felt like the kind of city we were looking for," said Julia Moed, an antiques dealer who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has lived in New York, London, Chicago and Chevy Chase. She moved to the building with her husband, Antwerp-born Peniel Moed, a Defense Department attorney.

"When he heard the prices of Baltimore real estate, we decided this was definitely the place to look for an apartment. The Washington had the amenities we wanted -- something that would make it possible for us to stay here forever."

George Liebmann, an attorney who lives in the building, said the Washington Apartments' developer was William F. Cochran, describing him as "a notable figure in Baltimore life, known as a Christian Socialist."

Cochran was the son of a wealthy Yonkers, N.Y., carpet manufacturer. When Cochran died in 1950, an article in The Sun said his estate was valued at $2.1 million. He was buried at Green Mount Cemetery -- which can be seen from the apartment house he built.

He married the former Annie Lorraine Gill, whose family inherited his interest in the building. Some of them lived there for more than half a century, Liebmann said.

The apartments were designed by Edward H. Glidden, who died in 1924. Born in Cleveland, he was the son of the president of the Glidden Varnish Company, and he moved to Baltimore after studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Glidden and Cochran also collaborated on the Marlborough apartments in Bolton Hill, where the art-collecting Cone sisters resided and kept their paintings.

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