Jewel In Jonestown

Architecture column

A new downtown inn opens in the restored estate that was once home to the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence.

August 20, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

From a secluded garden in downtown Baltimore, shaded by four ailanthus trees, there's hardly any sense of the high-rise office buildings several blocks away or the traffic whizzing by on the Jones Falls Expressway.

The garden once bordered the estate owned in the early 19th century by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Much later, it became part of the Baltimore City Life Museums campus, a public attraction that told the story of Baltimore's history before the museums closed abruptly in 1997.

Now it has blossomed again, as part of a new development that aims to bring the property back to life, while sparking improvements to the surrounding area.

The garden is one of two outdoor courtyards at the 1840s Carrollton Inn, a 13-room, $2 million bed-and-breakfast operation that opened this month in three of the old City Life buildings at 50 Albemarle St. in historic Jonestown.

It's the final step in the transformation of the City Life property to a mixed-use destination that contains museums, a restaurant, meeting space and luxury guest rooms.

"We're finally open," said Anne Pomykala, head of the 1840s Corp., the group that has been building the inn at 50 Albemarle St. for the past 2 1/2 years. "We received our occupancy permit two weeks ago, and we've had full houses for the past two weekends. We're trying to make our mark."

Initial guests have included a wedding party, parents taking their kids back to college, business travelers and baseball fans staying downtown after a game at Oriole Park. Many found the inn on the Internet ( A grand opening will be held Oct. 4.

Pomykala also runs the 21-year-old Gramercy Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Green Spring Valley and was selected to transform the former City Life properties after competing in a public bidding process nine years ago.

At that time, the city housing department sought proposals for the museum properties and selected a partnership headed by Pomykala to oversee the revitalization. Pomykala proposed maintaining the Carroll Mansion and the Phoenix Shot Tower as public museums and creating an inn and meeting facility in other buildings formerly occupied by the City Life Museums.

Built about 1808 at 800 E. Lombard St., the mansion was Carroll's wintertime residence from 1820 to 1832. Born in Annapolis in 1737, Carroll was a lawyer, politician and businessman who was an influential patriot in the years leading to the Revolutionary War, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a merchant instrumental in the creation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. When he died in Baltimore in 1832, he was one of the nation's wealthiest men.

Built in 1828, the Shot Tower rises 215 feet, 9 inches and was the tallest building in the United States until 1846. Made with an estimated 1.1 million bricks, it is the last of four in Baltimore that were used to make "drop" shot, or pellets, for small game hunting. It operated until 1892, when rising costs forced the owners to abandon it. Carroll had no connection with it, except for living nearby.

Besides the Carroll Mansion and the Shot Tower, the buildings under Pomykala's purview include the Fava Building at 33 S. Front St., with its cast-iron facade; the former 1840s House; the former Center for Urban Archaeology; and the museum's former administration building. The mansion and the Shot Tower are still city owned; the 1840s Corp. has acquired the others.

In 2002, Pomykala established a nonprofit organization, Carroll Museums Inc., to operate the mansion and Shot Tower as public attractions.

The 1840s Corp., which Pomykala heads with her husband, Ronald, has leased the first three levels of the Fava Building to a restaurant, Gardel's Restaurant & Supper Club, and operates the top floor as the 1840s Ballroom, a setting for meetings, weddings, receptions and other gatherings.

The 1840s Corp. created the inn within the shells of the former 1840s House, which depicted life in the early 19th century, the Center for Urban Archaeology and the administration building, and used the former museum courtyards to provide a visual connection.

The Leon Bridges Co. was the architect for the Carrollton Inn, which has a staff of 15. Pomykala served as general contractor and interior designer. Roman Gibas was her foreman.

Pomykala said she tried to take advantage of the historic ambience and urban location to create a bed-and-breakfast unlike any other in Baltimore - a getaway setting that offers a "resort type" atmosphere in the heart of the city.

"It's unusual that, four blocks from the Inner Harbor, you would have this garden, a plaza with flowers and trees and two courtyards," she said. "Once there, you're removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet you're one block from Little Italy, which is an attraction in itself."

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