Saturday Mailbox


December 23, 2006

Rowhouse reprieve is a welcome relief

I am so thankful that the beautiful old brick houses near Mercy Medical Center have acquired at least temporary protection from demolition because of the swift action of Baltimore's preservation board ("Panel votes to protect houses," Dec. 13).

The Sun has reported how Mercy requested that City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. add an amendment to a bill to strip the houses of protection.

The Sun also reported that the preservationists claimed that they were given no notice about the amendment, and thus denied a chance to speak up and have voice their opinions ("Houses stripped of protection," Nov. 26).

It seems to me that the way the amendment was handled is questionable, at best.

But I think the real issue here is not whether we need to keep the old houses, which are rich in African-American history and architectural significance.

The question is whether there really is a legitimate need for Mercy to expand.

Consider this: Less than one mile away stands the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital; it is growing rapidly and has been named the best hospital in the country year after year.

Also less than a mile from Mercy is the excellent University of Maryland medical facility, which has many new buildings and is also growing rapidly.

If a patient wants to find a smaller hospital in the city instead, there are many close by, including Harbor Hospital.

In this context, it seems clear that Mercy's efforts to expand should be denied.

If it really wants to grow and expand, and if it truly has a large enough patient base to support this objective, it should move to some other location.

Nicholas Young


The writer is a member of Baltimore Heritage Inc.

Mercy is menacing ancient streetscape

Five years ago, the seven houses in the 300 block of St. Paul Place, which were built in the 1820's, were specifically designated as "notable properties," along with several dozen others in the Central Business District ("Panel votes to protect houses," Dec. 13).

This was done by the City Council in a public process over more than six months.

Mercy Medical Center apparently made no effort to have these houses removed from the notable properties list during that 2000-2001 legislative process.

But six months ago, it persuaded City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. to do just that, quietly and well after the fact ("Rowhouse rider presented in public," letters, Dec. 9).

Former Common Cause president John W. Gardner cautioned us that, "politics is the only game that begins after the spectators have left the stadium."

Baltimore Heritage Inc. and the city's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation should have taken this maxim as their credo.

If they had done so, they would have been on red alert to the likelihood of mischief.

And Baltimore Heritage and its preservation cohorts should be continuously working with CHAP, the city's Department of Planning, the City Council and the Baltimore Architectural Foundation to be absolutely certain that all buildings in the city that should be designated as historic are so designated, well before any threat of demolition looms.

Let us hope that the Sisters of Mercy do not destroy these splendid pieces of our history in their eagerness to build a new tower across the street from their present hospital complex.

Saving the rowhouses would preserve what remains of a nearly two-century-old streetscape.

Henry R. Lord


The writer is a member of Baltimore Heritage Inc. and president of the Society to Preserve H.L Mencken's Legacy.

Canton homeowners lost the `road war'

It was with great interest that I read "Documenting war of the road" (Dec. 16). And I am very interested in viewing the Road Wars movie to see how the subject of stopping the East-West Expressway in "historic" Canton is treated.

But nowhere does the article address the fact that blocks of rowhomes in the Canton area were demolished through eminent domain to make way for the planned road, which was later scrapped.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was quoted in the article saying that, "this fight was not about a highway, it was about saving our neighborhoods ... that's why we fought so hard."

But what happened to cause those blocks of homes in Canton to be demolished before the project was scrapped?

How did the fight go for those homeowners? Who was fighting for those people, many of whom were elderly when they were displaced.

As a teenager, I remember watching the homes of my grandparents and relatives be demolished with such sadness and a heavy heart. I remember the anxiety of my elderly relatives trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

And, ironically, the original rowhomes across the street from the one my grandparents owned still stand, now renovated and worth six figures.

They stand across the street from the new townhomes built over the vacant lots where the earlier homes once stood.

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