Old Building A Homely Piece Of City History

February 14, 2009|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Not all landmarks are beautiful. For more than 90 years, what is now a fire-blackened, gutted building at the northwest corner of Charles Street and North Avenue has been a rusty anchor of this intersection. Never a beauty, it seemed in need of paint, a new roof and a better reputation. But even as it rests, due for demolition, it deserves to have its life story told.

Some people call it Goldbloom's, after a popular apparel shop that occupied the ground floor for decades. I grew up hearing it called the Hotel Chateau but never knew of any rooms being rented there.

The Chateau always looked peculiar because it was a building that was originally a group of 1890s rowhouses that some enterprising contractor patched together with an enthusiasm of stucco. Its first name was the Northampton Hotel, but it could have well been called the Hotel Noir.

A 1919 story in The Sun shed some light on its early troubles. The property had been owned by a former Emerson Hotel waiter named Edouard Schmeler, who put some money into it and ran it "on a shoestring," newspaper code for on the cheap and lacking.

Some 90 years ago, this paper was reporting - happily - that the Chateau might be torn down to make way for a 20-story deluxe hotel financed by T. Coleman du Pont, who had earlier been rebuffed by the trustees of Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church. He wanted to buy the church and the brownstone-front houses on East Mount Vernon Place. When all concerned refused to sell, he moved on to the Chateau. That deal fell apart, too.

Despite its homely appearance, the Chateau did give Baltimore two well-known commercial entities of the 1920s.

Its frontage along North Avenue contained retail shops, one of which was George Bunting's drugstore, which did a flourishing business thanks to its position on busy crosstown streetcar lines.

Druggists often made up salves and compounds, and Bunting marketed something called Noxzema, short for no-eczema. Later histories have revealed that the balm was actually invented by Dr. Francis J. Townsend, an Ocean City doctor, who created the cream as a sunburn cure. Early ads called the menthol-eucalyptus-scented stuff "the miracle cream of Baltimore." It was sold in blue-glass jars made by the Maryland Glass Co. It was the same cobalt blue used in Bromo-Seltzer bottles.

The Chateau had a public roof garden, a roof fitted with a bandstand, dance floor and decorative trelliswork. In the 1920s, radio station WCBM got its start here. Its call letters stood for Chateau Baltimore Maryland. I've heard that dance bands of the era broadcast live from the Chateau roof.

North Avenue was then an alternate to downtown as an entertainment district. There was a handful of movie theaters here - and the Chateau, where I'll wager that liquor was served (probably promoted) during Prohibition, would have enjoyed a happy time.

My family always felt that the corner of North and Charles had a seedy underside that never really got out of control. And the semi-ramshackle Chateau fit right in.

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