Architect Jonathan Fishman of RCG, Inco. presents plans for… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
Managers of Baltimore's Lyric Opera House plan to begin construction this summer on a multimillion-dollar expansion and modernization of its backstage area - part of an effort to make the 1894 theater more capable of accommodating elaborate, large-scale productions.
Architect Jonathan Fishman of RCG Inc. presented revised plans for the project Thursday to the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel. The latest design is a scaled-back version of previous plans.
Sandy Richmond, executive director of the nonprofit Lyric Foundation that owns the building, said he did not have a cost estimate for the latest design.
The Lyric was the home of the Baltimore Opera Company for many years until that organization filed for bankruptcy in late 2008. It's now the setting for a variety of traveling theater productions and other events.
The expansion was expected to cost $10 million to $12 million before the design revisions. City voters approved a $1 million bond issue in 2008 to help pay for the work, and Maryland's General Assembly has authorized additional funding in the form of grants and revenue bonds.
Previous plans called for the original east wall to be demolished and for a new one to be constructed closer to Maryland Avenue.
Fishman said the latest plans call for most of the east wall to remain in place and to be restored to its original appearance, although the uppermost portion would be reconstructed to look like the original top.
A new zinc-clad fly loft would be constructed above the stage area, and a glass-enclosed walkway would project from the east wall like a marquee, enabling performers to cross from one side of the stage to the other without going below street level or walking outdoors.
Fishman showed renderings of two versions of the east wall and crossover section, including one with large letters spelling out "The Lyric."
"The idea is to make it very clean, not like it's the back of the building," he said.
Richmond said he could not say how much the stage area would expand with the east wall remaining in place. He also declined to say how long construction would take.
Design panel members were generally receptive to the scaled-back design, which Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie characterized as a "less is more" approach to the expansion.
Panel members questioned the size of the glass crossover section and the notion of making it a "billboard" or marquee for the Lyric because that side isn't a public entrance to the theater.
Walter Ramberg, who sits on the panel, recommended a more delicate metal structure, like a catwalk, for the crossover and suggested that a sign might be more effective closer to the corner of Maryland and Mount Royal avenues.
Fishman told the panel that bricks have been popping out of the building's east wall, so scaffolding has been erected over the sidewalk. He promised that the repaired facade will be impressive.
"It's pretty decrepit right now," Fishman said. "The restoration will be pretty remarkable."