Baltimore Heritage was founded in 1960 to preserve and promote historic buildings and neighborhoods in Baltimore. In May 1960, Baltimore civic leader John J. Foster remarked:
“Day by day, our many fine historic and architectural landmarks are disappearing and deteriorating because of age, neglect, renewal and public works projects, and just plain apathy on the part of city officials and the population as a whole. Baltimore, one of the oldest cities in the country, has many historic resources which must be recognized, restored and returned to use now, or be permanently lost.”
In the spring of that year, a group of activists backed by a dozen of Baltimore’s civic and cultural groups came together, in the words of John J. Foster, President of the city’s Junior Association of Commerce, “because nobody else seemed to be doing anything to stop this senseless waste of Baltimore’s heritage.” A committee, chaired by architect W. Boulton Kelly, Jr., organized a tour of the city’s historic landmarks on May 21, 1960 guided by Wilbur H. Hunter, Jr., Director of the Peale Museum and Denys P. Myers of the Baltimore Museum of Art. After the tour, the group gathered at the Commercial Credit Building to launch the new effort.
By October 1961, Baltimore Heritage had formally incorporated and began work to prepare a tour guide and map to the city’s architecture landmarks, open a tourist information center in the base of the Washington Monument and raise funds for the restoration of the Constellation. During the 1960s, Baltimore Heritage led the effort to establish Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation and supported designation of the city’s first historic district in Mount Vernon. We successfully fought to save Old St. Paul’s Cemetery from destruction by the proposed East-West Expressway but failed in a campaign to protect the Glendy Graveyard at Gay Street and Broadway from being cleared and converted into a playground.
Urban renewal and highway projects took down unique historic landmarks across the city during the 1960s and 1970s. Despite a dedicated effort to revise Mount Vernon urban renewal plans and preserve Waterloo Row, designed by architect Robert Mills and built from 1815 to 1819, the buildings on the 600 block of Calvert Street were demolished.
In 1974, Baltimore Heritage launched a citywide petition drive to list the Camden Station on the National Register of Historic Places and protect the historic railroad station from demolition for the stadium complex already under discussion. Ultimately, their preservation prevailed and saved both Camden Station and the Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse that forms the iconic backdrop to Camden Yards today.
The 1980s saw many landmarks saved but others lost. When the National Trust for Historic Preservation held their annual conference in Baltimore in 1984, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer reflected on his own history with historic preservation, remarking:
“I was in the City Council when urban renewal was there. My people told me you had to tear everything down to start over again. Anything that’s old, tear it down. And then there were some people who said ‘This is not right,’…”
Mayor Schaefer’s support for historic preservation had clear limits as then president of Baltimore Heritage Licien King Harris wrote the next year:
“It is apparent that our city government has little concern for Baltimore’s historical and architectural heritage. Baltimore City has consistently failed to recognize and make use of the expertise of CHAP’s staff as a vital part of city government.”
Baltimore Heritage today continues the work that began in 1960 through a wide range of program and initiatives.