One of Baltimore's most distinctive buildings is hunting for a tenant.
The four-story Fava Building in Jonestown, featuring a cast-iron facade salvaged from an 1869 warehouse, has been largely vacant since Gardel's Restaurant and Supper Club went out of business last fall. It formerly housed the Baltimore City Life Museums.
A private entity, the 1840s Corp., owns the building at 33 Front St. and last year opened the 1840s Carrollton Inn, a 13-room, $2 million bed-and-breakfast inside three other former City Life buildings on the block. The inn is next to the historic Carroll Mansion, an estate owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The inn uses the top floor of the Fava Building as the 1840s Ballroom, a catering hall and meeting center. The third floor could house offices with views of the downtown skyline, said Anne Pomykala, head of the 1840s Corp.
Pomykala is looking for another restaurateur to take over the building's lower levels and help make the inn a regional destination.
"I want a high-end restaurant," she said. "I want somebody who has the experience and funding ability to make a go of it."
Besides a restaurant, Pomykala is contemplating a 140-car garage, spa and 11 more guest rooms for the inn.
Within a few months, she said, she expects demolition to begin on two former ice houses on Albemarle Street to make way for the garage. She said its design will include an elevator rather than ramps to take cars to upper levels.
The spa will be built inside a one-story structure that was built to house a nickelodeon-style theater and orientation center for the museum but never opened.
Visible to drivers heading north from downtown on the Jones Falls Expressway, and originally known as the Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center, the Fava Building was constructed for $8.4 million to showcase 200 years of Baltimore history. It was the city's gift to itself for its bicentennial in 1997.
The building's most unusual feature is the cast-iron facade from the old G. Fava Fruit Co. building that stood at the northwest corner of Charles and Camden streets. The facade was taken down in 1976, when the building was demolished to make way for the Baltimore Convention Center. The cast-iron pieces were placed in storage for more than a decade and re-erected as the frontispiece for the museum.
Instead of re-erecting the five-bay facade exactly as it stood before, however, the museum's architects "folded" it like an accordion to fit better onto the Front Street site, and designed exhibit galleries behind it. They also designed new cast-aluminum pieces in the manner of the old cast-iron ones so the facade could turn the "corners" that didn't exist before. It was an ingenious way to save a piece of Baltimore history while adapting it for a new use.
The lead architects for the Fava Building were Charles Brickbauer and Hugh McCormick, working initially with the partnership of Peterson and Brickbauer and later with Ziger/Snead Architects. In 2001, the building was added to the city's landmark list. Pomykala is working with the Leon Bridges Co. on the next phases of the inn, the garage and the guest rooms.
Groundhog Day fundraiser
The Baltimore Architecture Foundation will hold its annual Groundhog Day party and fundraiser at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 in the Bottle Building at Brewers Hill, Conkling and Toone streets.
Tickets can be purchased at the door: $29 for foundation members; $40 for nonmembers; $70 for two people. The theme is "Light and Shadow," and black-and-white cocktail party attire is encouraged.
Proceeds benefit the work of the foundation, a nonprofit center for Baltimoreans who care about architecture. Information: Call 410-539-7772.
Three European architectural firms will explore the relationships among nature, the urban landscape and "green design" in the exhibition Anxious Climate: Architecture at the Edge of Environment, at the Maryland Institute College of Art from Jan. 31 to March 9.
The participating architecture firms are R&Sie of Paris, Philippe Rahm of Lausanne and Paris, and Amid [Cero 9] of Madrid. Including computer renderings, photographs, 3-D prints and diagrams, Anxious Climate will be on view in the college's Fox Building, 1303 Mount Royal Ave. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
An opening reception will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 31.