Michael V. Murphy

Architect led the restorations of many city landmarks and was a member of the city's preservation commission

February 15, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

Michael Vernon Murphy, an architect who led restorations of Baltimore landmarks and often adopted unpopular viewpoints as a member of the city's preservation commission, died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday. He was 62.

Family members said that Mr. Murphy had been grocery shopping and returned to his home in the Evergreen section of North Baltimore, where he died in his sleep.

Recalled by colleagues as a "caring urbanist," Mr. Murphy was involved with the restoration of the Hippodrome Theatre, an enlargement of the Johns Hopkins University Club and refurbishments of numerous downtown churches. In 2007, he championed the then-closed Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, saying the 1967 playhouse deserved historical preservation status.

Born in Washington, he was the son of Frederick Vernon Murphy, a Washington architect and founder of the School of Architecture at the Catholic University of America, and Margery Cannon Murphy, a poet.

He attended Bethesda- Chevy Chase High School, Wheeling Jesuit College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in architecture. He was the recipient of the Dales Traveling Fellowship.

He moved to Baltimore as a young architect and worked for DMJM Architects, RTKL Associates and the office of Basil Acey. He started his own practice in 1983 and was joined by Frank Dittenhafer in 1985. They founded Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects.

"His enthusiasm for architecture was contagious, and he combined it with his natural affection for people," said James Suttner, an architect with whom he worked for 17 years. "In our design studio, he would make an observation often based on his gut, intuitive sense he had."

Many of his projects involved houses of worship. He won an early commission from the Franciscans at Folly Quarter in Howard County, and at his death was involved with the restoration of First and Franklin Presbyterian Church, a building he described as possessing a "tour de force interior" in a Baltimore Sun article published last month.

Mr. Murphy worked on the Har Sinai Congregation, St. Ignatius and St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic churches in downtown Baltimore and St. David's Episcopal Church in Roland Park. He also handled the restoration of the Marikle Chapel at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where his father designed a library in 1940.

"He was an engaging man, a person of great mirth, capability and compassion," said the Rev. William J. Watters, a Jesuit priest and pastor of St. Ignatius. "He had a love of Baltimore and was always trying to make it more beautiful."

Mr. Murphy's firm worked alongside a New York architect to transform the Hippodrome. His other works included the Sparks Elementary School, the Tremont Grand Hotel and the University of Baltimore Student Center on Mount Royal Avenue.

"Mike was the consummate professional," said Baltimore architect Rich Burns. "You could feel the love in the execution of all his work, but his best work was his preservation work. He was truly a caring urbanist."

The Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded his firm more than 50 awards for excellence in design. In 2009, the firm won the Baltimore AIA Grand Design Award. Mr. Murphy was made a fellow of the AIA in 2008.

Mr. Murphy was an outspoken advocate on architectural issues. He often raised his voice in praise of mid-20th-century architecture. He recognized the historical significance of modern design in Baltimore, including the Mechanic Theatre, and lobbied heavily for its preservation.

"He would speak his mind," said architect Walter Schamu. "When the city was divided down the middle about the Mechanic, Mike orchestrated support for it. He woke up Baltimore to appreciate its landmarks."

Mr. Murphy served on the Board of the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church, 2801 N. Charles St., where he was a Eucharistic minister, lector and architectural consultant.

Survivors include his companion of 18 years, Virginia Kirk; a son, Patrick Murphy of Baltimore; a daughter, Julia Murphy of New York City; and two brothers, Fred Murphy of Menlo Park, Calif., and John C. Murphy of Baltimore. He was previously married to Paula Gabig Murphy.

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