This week’s entry in our Baltimore Building of the Week series is Baltimore’s Cast Iron Buildings,
Another version of the Italian palace that dominated Baltimore architecture in the middle of the 19th century was not executed in traditional materials like marble (Peabody Institute) or brick (Old Loyola College). Instead it used cast iron and large sheets of glass – both made more abundant by the Industrial Revolution. In 1850, James Bogardus of New York obtained a patent for a system of iron construction. His first great commission was the Sun Iron Building in downtown Baltimore, sadly destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire. Bogardus and his imitators went on to build a number of iron-and-glass commercial palaces across the United States, often cast by Baltimore foundries like Heyward, Bartlett, & Co. and Denmead’s Monumental Foundry.
Baltimore Street, commercial hub of the city in the 1860s, was lined with these iron palaces. Tenants marveled at the great expanses of glass supported by identical classically decorated arches, each cast from the same mold – a style derived from the exuberant Venetian palaces of the 17th and 18th centuries. Baltimore’s surviving cast iron district is on the 300 and 400 blocks of W. Baltimore Street. Fewer than 25 of these strikingly innovative buildings – so characteristic of commercial, seagoing Baltimore – remain. Many are in poor repair, like 407-409 W. Baltimore Street (pictured), but 300 W. Pratt Street, brilliantly restored in the 1980s, shows what can be done.