Site to become haven for women, kids


Opening of My Sister's Place shelter at Cathedral and Franklin planned in tandem with move by Our Daily Bread

Architecture Column

May 28, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,sun architecture critic

With Baltimore's largest soup kitchen scheduled to start operating from a new location June 4, its owner is poised to begin renovating the current property for a different but related use.

Catholic Charities of Baltimore plans to spend $3 million starting this summer to convert the Our Daily Bread dining facility at 411 Cathedral St. and two adjacent rowhouses at 17 and 19 W. Franklin St. to a permanent home for My Sister's Place, a day shelter and resource for homeless women and children.

The project, called My Sister's Place Women's Center, has been planned in tandem with the soup kitchen's move to a $15 million building at 725 Fallsway called the Our Daily Bread Employment Center. The idea behind the Fallsway project was to link a hot meals program with job training and placement services to create a comprehensive resource center where poor people can help themselves out of poverty.

When it reopens in 2008, the renovated complex at Cathedral and Franklin streets will be a second resource center combining a meals program with services to help poor people, this time women and children exclusively.

Besides a dining room and kitchen serving three meals a day, it will contain areas where women can shower and spend the day, plus a new home for the Samaritan Center and Families That Work, two programs that offer referrals and other aid to women.

The Franklin Street project represents a homecoming of sorts for My Sister's Place, which began as an offshoot of Our Daily Bread shortly after the soup kitchen began serving people from a storefront at 17 W. Franklin St.

Directors of Catholic Charities realized that women coming to the soup kitchen needed a shelter and other assistance besides meals, and launched a separate program for them and their children at 123 W. Mulberry St.

Our Daily Bread outgrew the Franklin Street storefront and moved to a larger dining facility on Cathedral Street in 1991. Its move to Fallsway frees up space on Cathedral Street that can be used to house an expanded My Sister's Place. It also represents a design challenge for the architect, CSD Inc. of Baltimore, which must link two historic buildings to the 1991 structure so more programs can be under one roof.

Curtis Wilson, an architect with CSD, said Catholic Charities wants to put more programs under one roof as a way of encouraging people who come for a meal to take advantage of other services, and vice versa. Although the 1991 soup kitchen was next to Catholic Charities programs on Franklin Street, he said, there were separate entrances and people visiting one location did not necessarily visit the other.

The interiors of the Franklin Street buildings, which date from the 1800s, are being reconstructed so their three floors line up with each other and the buildings have a better connection to the 1991 soup kitchen, designed by Ayers Saint Gross. The 15,000-square-foot complex will get a new elevator, classrooms, "day room" for women, office space for service providers, laundry and a place for homeless women to get mail.

A separate facility for women is needed because many women on the streets have been battered or otherwise abused by men and "tend to be more anxious about men in their environment," said Kerrie Burch-DeLuca, director of communications for Catholic Charities. The Franklin Street center will be "a place where women can feel safe and secure" and not have to worry about running into men who could harm them, she said.

The main entrance to My Sister's Place will be on Franklin Street, so people won't have to line up outside for meals the way they do now. A fenced-in garden will be created near the current entrance to Our Daily Bread to indicate it's no longer a main entrance.

Wilson said it takes extra effort to retain the roof and front facades of the 19th-century buildings, but they were the last remnants of a row of houses on Franklin Street, and the design team, in consultation with the Maryland Historical Trust, decided to preserve what it could. "We looked at the alternatives from a cost and historical significance standpoint, and we chose this direction," he said.

Other consultants working on the conversion include Hyde Interior Design, the interior designer; Morabito Consultants, the structural engineer; James Posey Associates, the mechanical and electrical engineer; and Farrand & English, the civil engineer and landscape architect.

Our Daily Bread serves 700 people a day. My Sister's Place is expected to serve 75 to 100 people a day in its new location and will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Olmsted forum

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's lasting contributions to Baltimore parks and open spaces will be the focus of a public forum that starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park.

"Protecting the Olmsted Park Legacy - Constituency Building and the Role of Friends Groups" is the title of the event, which will feature presentations by park planner Myra Brosius and Christopher Carroll, chief of parks for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks. Information: the Friends of Maryland's Olmsted Parks & Landscapes, 410-235-9149.

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