Author: Guest Writer

We're always looking for interesting stories and photographs about preservation and revitalization in historic Baltimore neighborhoods. If you are interested in writing a post, sharing a photo or you have an idea for a topic you'd like us to write about, please get in touch at info@baltimoreheritage.org.

Photos: “We didn’t paint them beige” Rowhouses on Barclay by Foot

Thanks to Steve Earley for sharing these great photographs of our Barclay by Foot tour led by Jenny Hope from the Telesis Corporation! Enjoy his whole set on Flickr and get inspired to join us for another upcoming Baltimore by Foot walking tours this spring.

Baltimore’s Old House Stories: Missing Baseboards and a Bolton Hill Brownstone

Thanks to Margaret De Arcangelis, Education & Outreach Director with Preservation Maryland for sharing the story of her historic Bolton Hill rowhouse and the adventure of starting an exciting restoration project.

Margaret's Old House

I came across a tweet the other day and could not help but smile: “It’s funny what makes you happy as a home owner.  I have baseboards.  Yeah!!! J”

As someone who has always enjoyed visiting old houses and loves learning about architecture, I always thought baseboards were great. It was not until this summer, however, when my husband and I bought our first house, that I truly appreciated the value of a well-placed baseboard. This appreciation is largely due to the fact that some of our baseboards, plaster, banisters and light fixtures are missing and I can only dream of the day when they will all be back in place.

Christopher and I did not buy a move-in ready starter house like many people do.  Instead Chris has lovingly followed me into what may be my most hare-brained (but wonderful!) idea yet.  We bought a true fixer-upper – an 1886 brownstone in Bolton Hill that needs more repair work than I have  space to list in this short post.  Like so many of the houses in that neighborhood, a prior owner subdivided the house into apartments leaving vestiges of long abandoned kitchens and bathrooms on each floor. Numerous walls were damaged when temporary walls were built and later torn down. Unlike many others rowhouses in Bolton Hill, however, our house remained in the hands of just one family from the 1880s to the 1950s (thank you MD Land Records for providing that fun fact!) and much of the original detail remains intact down to the stylish patterned parquet floors. Much of wood work including our 45 wood windows is covered by only one or two coats of paint and, despite a few missing pieces, the original stained glass transoms are in place and can be repaired.

After searching for the right house for ten months, I knew this was the perfect house for us the first time I saw it. There are so many beautiful details throughout the house that would be impossible or at least cost prohibitive for us to have in any other house. Some days the house does present challenges. The first few times it rained we found a new leak each time. We discovered that the duct tape on one of the sewer lines in the basement was not covering up a small crack in the pipe, but instead was put there to cover the ten inch by two-inch gouge in the pipe. We learned that sometimes the scope of a project changes midway through due to unforeseen circumstances, which may mean you need to remove a 100-year-old piece of Lincrusta from the wall so the plumbers can run new water lines. No matter what the new issue is with our house, all of those feelings of frustration go away each time I go to unlock the front door and am reminded how lucky I am to own such a beautiful old house.

We’re looking for more “old house stories” along with resources, tips and tricks you can share with other old house owners in Baltimore. Join the conversation on Facebook with Baltimore’s New Old House Forum or get in touch with Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org

Mold can’t hide the traces of history at 10 E. North Avenue: Photos and stories from the former home of WFBR Radio

Enjoy a unique behind the scenes look at the former Centre Theater in today’s photo-filled post on the layered history of 10 East North Avenue. Brennen Jensen is a freelance writer who tromped through many abandoned-but-slated-for-renovation Baltimore buildings as a former senior writer for the City Paper, where he also co-authored the local history column “Charmed Life.” Find more photos of the building today in Brennen’s Flickr set and learn more about the history of this landmark on Explore Baltimore Heritage.

The painted message high on a cement wall reads “Roll Slow Blow Horn”—not that you can see (or photograph) it all at once through the tattered remains of an erstwhile drop ceiling. I’m standing inside the Centre Theatre building at 10 E. North Ave. Its deco-moderne facade of white travertine and contrasting black soapstone dates to 1939, but as this signage from the past shows, the structure—at least some of it—had an earlier life.

Before it was a glamorous movie theatre and home of once-mighty WFBR radio, old Sun stories indicate it was a car dealership and bi-level parking structure erected in 1913 as the Colonial Garage. The horns that sounded here belonged to Studebakers and Ford Phaetons. The Centre Theatre would see its own adaptive-reuse/destruction in 1959 when it was ignobly carved up into offices for the Equitable Trust Company. And now the nonprofit developer Jubilee Baltimore is on the cusp of adapting the structure once again, as creative space—potential studios, classrooms, performance venues—in keeping with the spirit of the Station North Arts District in which it now resides. There’s a lot of history in these walls, and I have about an hour to see it all.

Centre Theatre
Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.
Stair, WFBR/Centre Theatre
Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.

My guide is Jonathan Lessem, a friend and an architect with Baltimore’s Ziger/Snead, the firm charged with reimagining the edifice for the 21st century. He only has an hour to spare for this impromptu look-around, and beyond that, the place is so overrun with mold that you really can’t stomach a longer visit. The air is positively fetid. And it’s pitch black inside. A flashlight’s slender beam is swallowed up by a vast and gloomy squalor. The largest first floor room sports dark granite tiles beneath a layer of filth. This was likely a public lobby area for the bank. A pair of potted plastic plants is a forlorn and surreal addition.

Interior of the Centre Theatre, ca1939
Art Moderne interior of the Centre Theatre, Hughes Company, ca1939. Maryland Historical Society [SVF].
In the dank darkness there is no point in searching for the gorgeous, curvilinear walls and round proscenium arch of the Centre’s auditorium. The bank obliterated all that. Fittingly, it sort of resembled the Bakelite radios of the era, as the accompanying photo, courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, shows. Old descriptions of the place always make note of a mural in the theatre lobby titled “Man works by day, night is for romance.” All you can see now is that mold is busy around the clock. There are literally stalactites of mold hanging down.

Traces from its garage days are scant, too. Jonathan opens a door and shows me a corner ramp where cars once drove to upper floors. It later became a convenient place for retrofitters to shove air ducts and other mechanical equipment. A 1913 Sun article describes how part of the second floor housed a chauffeur’s lounge, replete with smoking room and billiard tables. (If you were rich enough to own a car back then you were likely loaded enough to hire someone to drive it.) The garage/dealership changed hands and makes of cars sold several times. Early on, a car called a Haynes Light Six was sold here, the onetime motoring pride of Kokomo, Indiana.

The glass block window lighting up a corner stairwell provides the only hint of an earlier 1930s aesthetic. (However, there are plants—real ones this time–growing on the stairs.) A church owned and occupied the rear of the building and walking through its former sanctuary and offices is decidedly spooky because it appears as if the congregation left in a hurry. We’re talking suddenly, and overnight sometime in 2008. They walked away from all manner of office and audio equipment, with Sunday school rooms full of books and half-finished bible lessons on chalkboards. Of course everything is moldy-gross now. It’s amazing what a few years without heat, AC, or a watertight roof can do to a building and its contents.

Control panel, WFBR Radio
Former WFBR control panel. Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.
Centre Theatre
Shelves in the former record room. Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.

A backstairs leads us to the truly historic and utterly cool studios of WFBR 1300 AM. A half-moon shaped console festooned with banks of analog meters, lights, and large black dials looks like a steam punk version of spaceship bridge, or perhaps some Dr. Strangelove-era nuclear redoubt. This is the silent, decayed heart of what was once one of Baltimore’s most prominent media outlets. The radio rooms here date to the glamour days of broadcasting, the age of live orchestras and shows such as “Every Woman’s Hour” and “Moonlight in Maryland.” But the station was riding high up through the 1980s. Crazed morning-man DJ Johnny Walker worked here from 1974 to 1987, creating an immensely popular shock-jock shtick long before the likes of Howard Stern. (And Stern’s giggling sidekick, Robin Quivers, worked at WFBR for a bit.) The station broadcast Orioles games between 1979 and 1986, a pretty good run with a World Series in the middle. But the birds flew to another station in ’87, by which time stereo FM already had static-prone AM on the ropes. Walker soon split and the station was sold, ending its days simulcasting an FM station out of Washington—including the Howard Stern Show.

Most of the old equipment here is going to be salvaged, I’m told. Indeed, most of the cool artifacts within have already been tagged for removal prior to the demolition work slated to begin here anytime now. A sun-splashed record library sits silent and empty now, with its ranks of shelving labeled “Greatest Hits” and “Oldies Collection.” I stick my head into a room marked Studio E—and pull it out again in a hurry. Mold and mildew have run rampant on the soundproofed walls and carpeted floors.

In a ramshackle closet full of debris, a reach blindly into a box of old papers to pull out a random sheet to photograph. What I snag is a brief carbon paper dated November 20, 1969 stating that, “Due to Mohawk air crash we deleted one AM and one PM spot.” The airline, you see, crashed a plane into an Upstate New York mountaintop the day before, killing all 14 people on board. I imagine you wouldn’t want jaunty ads promoting an airline’s virtues at the same time that the news carried grim details of a fatal crash. I’ve only heard of Mohawk from AMC’s Mad Men program, where the airline is one of the fictional advertising company’s clients. Indeed, some Mad Men fan blogs have speculated that this very crash might figure in the plot of the upcoming season, which is set in 1969.After a visit to the station’s former lobby/reception area—a study in mid-century modern—we move onward and upward into vast office floors sporting buckling carpet tiles and graffiti. Billions of dollars of bank transactions must have moved through these now decrepit spaces. Only a few rusty vaults provide evidence of their former monetary use. The top floor sports a massive roof failure where sunlight—and mold-engendering rain—enters the building. We can step out on the roof here, right behind the marquee tower, which is revealed to be totally hollow inside. As phony as a movie set.

It’s safe to say my trip up through a century of Baltimore history has been breathtaking, even if sometimes it was a little hard to breath.

Rooftop view, WFBR/Centre Theatre
View from the roof. Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.
Mural at the rear, WFBR/Centre Theatre
Photo courtesy Brennen Jensen, October 21, 2013.

Monuments to George Armistead and Samuel Smith rededicated and celebrated for Defender’s Day Weekend

Thanks to Kathleen Kotarba, Executive Director of Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, for sharing a guest post on the Defender’s Day Weekend rededication of two War of 1812 monuments in Federal Hill Park and the story behind their conservation.

Baltimore from Federal Hill, ca1822
Federal Hill, courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-0019.

Join Governor Martin J. O’Malley, former Senator Paul Sarbanes, Congressman John Sarbanes, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, and South Baltimore neighbors celebration and rededication of the Sam Smith Monument and Armistead Monument at Federal Hill Park. The US Army 3rd Infantry’s “Old Guard” Fife and Drum Corps, the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard, and the Maryland Defense Force Buglers will perform, accompanied by a Military Retreat and lowering of Federal Hill’s distinctive 15-Star Flag.

Celebrate and Rededicate War of 1812 Monuments on Federal Hill

Saturday, September 14, 2013, 5:00pm
Federal Hill Park, 300 Warren Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230

The ceremony is co-hosted by South Harbor Renaissance, Inc. and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, with the cooperation of the Maryland Military Monuments Commission and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Major General Samuel Smith Monument, 1917

The Samuel Smith Monument was one of several sculptural monuments commissioned in recognition of Baltimore’s Centennial of the War of 1812. General Smith was commander of the Maryland forces that repulsed and defeated the British in the Battle of Baltimore at North Point and at Fort McHenry on September 12-14, 1814. Previously, Smith had been a hero of the Revolutionary War. After his exemplary military career, he continued his public service by serving forty years in Congress including becoming President of the U.S. Senate, serving as Secretary of the U.S Navy, and at the age of 80 serving as the Mayor of Baltimore.

Prominent Baltimore sculptor Hans Schuler received three commissions during the Centennial of the War of 1812, including the monument to General Smith. Schuler’s sculpture artfully presents the strength of the General, standing in his military uniform from the War of 1812. This 1917 monument has been relocated twice and was originally located in the southeastern edge of Wyman Park. In 1953, the monument moved to a park named for Samuel Smith at the corner of Pratt and Light Streets. In 1970, General Smith’s monument was moved to its current Federal Hill Park location, overlooking the grand view of Baltimore’s harbor and skyline.

In January of 2012, the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) determined that structural conditions within the monument’s base required the City’s immediate attention. In Summer of 2013, CHAP engaged Conservator of Fine Art, Steven Tatti, to conduct a comprehensive conservation of the monument, including the necessary reconstruction of the base.

The bronze statue of Samuel Smith was removed and secured to allow for the dismantling of the granite base. The statue of Smith was carefully cleaned and the bronze received a heated wax conservation treatment. The granite sections of the monument base were completely dismantled and placed adjacent to the monument. The existing structural pad was then cleaned and prepped for the reconstruction of the base. The one broken section of granite was repaired prior to reinstallation. The granite sections were gently cleaned to avoid potential damage. The monument base was then reconstructed and repointed, course by course, to restore its stability. It was very important to get each course level and plumb to insure that the bronze statue could be reinstalled securely.

Once the granite base was reconstructed, the bronze statue of Smith was returned the top of the monument. The projected was funded by the City of Baltimore, through CHAP’s Monument Restoration Program in the Department of Planning, with additional contributions of the Maryland Military Monument’s Commission.

Colonel George Armistead Monument, 1882

Armistead's Monument from The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812 (1896), California Digital Library.
The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812 (1896), California Digital Library.

The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore erected the Colonel George Armistead Monument on Eutaw Place on September 12, 1882. Armistead was commander of Fort McHenry during the British attack of September 13-13, 1814. The architectural firm of G. Metzger designed this monument that features the outline of Armistead’s career in the inscription on the shaft. The marble block of fourteen feet rests on a base a foot and a half high. This monument was commissioned as a “substitute” for an earlier ca. 1828 tablet of commemoration that became defaced and destroyed by time.

As with the Samuel Smith Monument, the Armistead Monument was moved from its original location. Designed for its initial installation on Eutaw Place, the monument was subsequently moved to Federal Hill after residents protested that its height did not harmonize with the loftiness of their homes. Today, the strong architectural presence of the Armistead Monument anchors the Federal Hill overlook in close proximity to the Samuel Smith Monument.

In summer of 2013, CHAP engaged Conservator of Fine Art, Steven Tatti, again to conserve the Armisted Monument. The original lower tier of the stacked stone foundation was cleaned and shimmed as needed. The stone foundation, as well as the joint between the foundation and the monument base, was then repointed with an appropriate sand cement mortar mix. The monument itself was gently washed, carefully avoiding damaging the fragile stone. The ornamental fence was then cleaned, prepped and repainted with alkyd black semi-gloss paint. The projected was funded by the City of Baltimore, through CHAP’s Monument Restoration Program in the Department of Planning, with the additional contributions of the Maryland Military Monument’s Commission and the City-wide Adopt A Monument Fund.

This post is based on the September 2013 Monument Project Conservation Report available from CHAP.

“The whole place is good” – Edward L. Palmer and the architecture of Guilford

Our latest post in our ongoing series on the 100 year history of Guilford is by Walter Schamu FAIA on the role of Edward L. Palmer. Enjoy Walter’s thoughtful history of Palmer and his firm Palmer & Lamdin:

Edward L. Palmer (1877–1952), courtesy the Guilford Association
Edward L. Palmer (1877–1952), courtesy the Guilford Association

It would be impossible to discuss the history of Baltimore’s Guilford community without serious attention being given to the architect Edward L. Palmer. Palmer and his firm of Palmer and Lamdin designed many of the significant residences in Guilford, as well as Roland Park, Homeland and Gibson Island.

Edward L. Palmer was an 1899 graduate of Johns Hopkins and, in 1903, the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. He began his career in architecture as the in-house architect to the Roland Park Company working for Edward Bouton, the developer of the new planned Roland Park community and Guilford. During the time as architect for the Roland Park Company he designed some of the first Guilford homes including the greatly admired Tudor Revival Bretton Place and Chancery Square (1913).

It was once reported by Palmer’s daughter, Ann Sinclair-Smith, that Bouton sent young Mr. Palmer to Switzerland to see, first hand, how houses can be constructed on steep slopes. No doubt this was to prepare him for the “unbuildable” terrain of much of northern Roland Park. In 1911 Palmer and Bouton traveled to Europe together looking for ideas and studying domestic architecture. In 1917 he left the Roland Park Company and began his firm as “Edward L. Palmer Jr. Architect.”At this point begins the story of a truly remarkable architectural firm which, through its many iterations, designed over 200 residences and hundreds of institutional, religious and corporate buildings in the Maryland region and beyond.

As quoted in Mr. Palmer’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun, October 27, 1945:

“It was during the period from 1907 to 1917, when he served as architect and a member of the Committee on Approval of Plans for the Roland Park Company, that Mr. Palmer’s work in residential development earned him national recognition among architects and real-estate developers. For under his guidance, the Roland Park Company was one of the first in the United States to employ competent landscape architects and engineers for site development, to require standards of excellence in design, to impose restrictions on land use and make adequate provisions for maintenance of streets, plantings and parks after completion of the initial development. As architects for the company, Mr. Palmer successfully demonstrated—by designing and supervising the construction of several hundred individual residences—that the insistence of high architectural standards was economically feasible.”

Early in his practice his work focused on two large housing developments. The first was for workers housing for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Dundalk, Maryland and the second was for the Dupont Company in Wilmington, Delaware. These were multi-unit, rowhouse type structures of a modest scale, but clearly with distinctive architectural character. But it was his private residential work in the still emerging neighborhoods north of Baltimore City that some of his best work can still be seen and enjoyed. This is especially true when, after 1920, William B. Lamdin joined the firm. In 1925, the firm name was changed by adding new partners to become “Palmer, Willis and Lamdin.” Again in 1929 it changed to simply “Palmer and Lamdin” which had it offices at 513 North Charles Street, in downtown Baltimore.

4001 Greenway, courtesy Tom Hobbs
4001 Greenway, courtesy Tom Hobbs

In the early years of his practice, Palmer set the course for his firm to eventually flourish in Baltimore. One of his first commissions in 1915, seemingly undertaken while he was still with the Roland Park Company, was a house for C. Braxton Dallam at 4001 Greenway. This house was constructed on the site of the original Guilford estate of A.S. Abell. Referred to by local architectural historian, Peter Kurtze, as a “baronial Jacobean mansion” the house is an imposing display of brick arches and steeply pitched roofs, ornate chimneys and other refinements that must have been the hot topic of its day.

Bill Landin, courtesy the Guilford Association
William D. Lamdin (1883–1945) joined the firm in 1923, courtesy the Guilford Association

Later on, in his work with partner Bill Lamdin, the firm began to develop a definite style, especially in the houses that recall English or French country architecture. Bill Lamdin, who joined the firm in 1923, had served as an Army artillery officer in France in World War I and must have seen and possibly sketched the vernacular architecture of rural France, as so much of its design characteristics are seen in their work.

For an article in the Baltimore News in April 1916, Edward L. Palmer is asked directly “What do you think to be the significance of the houses of Guilford from your point of view?” Palmer responded in his predictably modest manner:

“I can’t give a finished essay off hand on the subject but I can tell you in plain talk what I think it means for us. The main thing about the houses in Guilford, it seems to me, is that they show a serious attempt on the part of the architects to design stuff that is in ‘good grammar.’ That may sound queer, but it is the best simile I can think of. The architecture there is more comparable to correct English than anywhere else . . . Roland Park and Guilford are now really developments that we can be proud of. They possess some splendid houses and many more that are very good. For instance, it isn’t as if Guilford were a place you could find one or two examples of good architecture—the whole place is good.”

3700 Greenway, courtesy Greg Pease
3700 Greenway, courtesy Greg Pease

Charles M. Nes (who became a partner in the firm with L. McLane Fisher in 1945, after World War II, when the firm became “Palmer, Lamdin, Fisher, Nes”) said that once Bill Lamdin completed the “Gateway Houses” at Greenway and St. Paul Street in 1925, the firm’s future was secure.These two houses, 3701 St. Paul Street and 3700 Greenway, are not identical or mirror images, but rather complementary in design and present a classic example of the best of Palmer and Lamdin’s work. Bill Lamdin was the designer and his talents are on full display—all the trademark elements are handled with tremendous skill including the steeply pitched roof, the variegated and rusticated slate, decorative masonry, ironwork and ornate chimneys and cornices.These elements will occur again and again in the firm’s work with other touches often added such as stair tower turrets, dovecotes, stone and brick facade interplay.

Other notable and classic examples of their work can be seen throughout Guilford and include 14 St. Martins Road (1929), 3707 Greenway (1929), 4014 Greenway (1914), 4201 and 4205 Underwood Road (1926), 212 Wendover Road (1922), 219 Northway (1925), 4200 Greenway (1914). 101 Wendover Road (1929), 28 Charlcote Place (1929), 210 E. Highfield Road (1926), 7 Stratford Road (1928), The Roland Park Apartments (1925), Second Presbyterian Church (1924). The streets of Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland are rich with the architectural works of this firm. The architectural files of the Roland Park Company retained at the Langsdale Library of the University of Baltimore, document that Edward Palmer and Palmer and Lamdin designed more than 150 Guilford homes, many of them iconic examples of domestic architecture and displaying a mastery of many styles.

This piece was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of The Guilford News. Walter Schamu FAIA, is president and founder of SMG Architects. He is respected throughout the region for his expertise in historic architecture, and is the founder of Baltimore Architecture Foundation.