Thieves taking best stuff from fine old house

CRIME BEAT

April 03, 2009|By PETER HERMANN

They broke in on a Friday and took the first marble fireplace mantel, prying it off a brick wall with a crowbar. They visited again Saturday and took the second marble fireplace mantel. They came back Sunday and took an ornate cast-iron pipe that siphoned off smoke.

Finally, the owner, illustrator Jerry Dadds, bought a ladder, climbed to the 14-foot ceiling and took down a handcrafted chandelier decorated with angels and etched-glass globes.

"They'll come back for that next," he surmised.

Unbelievable. Brazen. Desperate. Zealous.

These are just some of the words that the 69-year-old Dadds could think of as he raced around the old Thomas Carey House (once home to the founder of the Bryn Mawr School) in Charles Village, smack next to the more modern WYPR building on North Charles Street. He bought the 8,812-square-foot house (not including the carriage house out back) in 1978. He is the fourth owner since it was built about 1850, and he rented the space to businesses and artists for years.

Now he is renovating and trying to sell it. He put it on the market 18 months ago for $1.1 million. Then he dropped the price to $700,000, and now he says someone has expressed interest for a half-million.

But burglars keep taking the best stuff.

Day after day after day.

Dadds simply shakes his head. He fell in love with the house, its gardens out back, the 12-foot-high windows, the broken piano, the 19th-century brownstone steps leading up to the double doors, and the fireplaces (I lost count, and many rooms have two). You can still walk on the original Georgia-pine floorboards; some single planks are 40 feet long.

"I feel like I've been a guardian of this place," Dadds told me.

This week, he was busy patching a hole in a side leaded-glass window that burglars broke to get into the vestibule, from which they got past a 2-inch-thick wooden door. Dadds has now put a crossbar in place and is visiting antiques shops around the state to look for the mantels, inlaid with flower designs and made in the 1800s by a famous local sculptor, William Henry Rinehart. He has no idea what they are worth, but he has seen similar mantels in antiques catalogs selling for up to $40,000.

Thieves have a rich tradition of pilfering expensive antiques and anything else nailed and not nailed down.

In the 1990s, bandits went on a tear, stealing plastic chairs and lawn ornaments, to the point that police urged residents to lock down their patio furniture and put name tags on their birdbaths. One man broke into 86 homes and stole century-old cast-iron light fixtures, a Victorian-era baby carriage, ornate window grates and kerosene lamps. Bandits capped their crime spree by stealing two 300-pound solid brass doors off a side entrance of the city courthouse.

Dadds is offering a reward for the mantels' "undamaged return," which he concedes is unlikely. He praises city police for treating his burglary seriously, dusting for fingerprints and sending a half-dozen squad cars racing up Charles Street on Monday night after he called 911 to report a possible suspect. It was a homeless man sleeping out front.

There are two fewer antique marble fireplace mantels in Baltimore now, and you could argue so what, given that no blood was spilled. But it is a tragedy for Jerry Dadds, who cared for the house and for its history. In this dismal climate, he can sell the building for maybe just half of what it was worth 18 months ago, and he now fears the gaping holes left in the living room will make the property even less inviting. And we don't need any more vacant houses in Baltimore.

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