Poppleton’s Local Historic District Designation Progresses

Today the nearly 20-year-old effort to recognize the important history and heritage in the Poppleton neighborhood took a big step forward. The Land Use Committee of Baltimore’s City Council endorsed a bill to designate Sarah Ann Street and parts of adjoining North Carrollton Street as a local historic district. The bill still has a few steps to go within City Council, and the mayor must sign off on it as well, but the recent actions are a clear victory for the residents and friends who have worked so long for this designation.
Those who have continued to fight to save the Sarah Ann Street alley houses and surrounding neighborhood in front of City Hall.
Back in 2004, Baltimore Heritage got involved in the work to prevent the Poppleton houses from being demolished. Our board member, Tom Ward, got Baltimore Heritage connected with neighbors, including activist Sonia Eaddy, who were fighting a proposed demolition project backed by the City and a developer based in New York. There have been a number of historic houses demolished over the last 18 years, including the home of one-time West Baltimore political kingmaker Boss Kelly. The recent action by the City Council will protect a critical core block of alley houses on Sarah Ann Street that have been owned by Black Baltimore families since they were built in the 1870s. Baltimore Heritage stays committed to helping the Poppleton community and will periodically share significant developments.

Our 250th Five Minute Histories Video

We can’t believe it, but we just published our 250th Five Minute Histories video! To celebrate, we decided to cover a quintessential Baltimore food—lake trout. And stay tuned at the end of the video to see some familiar faces who want to thank you all for your support over the past two years of 250 videos. You guys have stuck with us and made our work so enjoyable. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“Campaign to Save the Preston Street Rowhouses Wins a Key Vote from CHAP”

Yesterday, CHAP formally found that the 5 buildings on W. Preston Street that the Greek Church has proposed to demolish are intact enough to still be considered historic. This is a positive step towards finding a preservation solution.

Baltimore’s Greek community has a rich heritage that is worthy of respect and what we’re asking the church to do is do the same for the Mount Vernon community that it has been part of for 90 years.


From the Baltimore Brew:

Jack Danna, of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, gestures towards the representative of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the audience. (Fern Shen)

After word spread that the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation wanted to tear down a set of 1890s rowhouses in Mount Vernon, the response from the public was forceful.

By mid-morning, 156 people had sent in letters or emails to oppose the demolition, the city’s preservation chief, Eric Holcomb, said at a hearing today.

Soon afterwards, following impassioned pleas to spare the five buildings from the wrecking ball, the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) handed opponents a key victory.

By a unanimous voice vote, they decided that the houses at 35-43 West Preston Street “contribute to the character” of the historic Mount Vernon District, an important determination the commissioners will take into account when they consider the church’s request to demolish the buildings.


Other Press:

Saving a piece of Baltimore’s history, residents opt to keep rundown townhomes in the community

Greek Orthodox church is willing to work with the neighborhood to explore alternatives to razing five rowhouses in Mount Vernon historic district, attorney says

 

Add Your Voice to Save Preston Street Rowhouses

Recently the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation announced that it is seeking to demolish five adjacent rowhouses on Preston Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood across the street from the church. Below is a little information about why these rowhouses (number 35-43 West Preston Street) are quite special architecturally and historically, and why Baltimore Heritage has joined the neighborhood association and people across the city in calling on the church to be a good neighbor and work to find a solution that preserves the buildings.


Add Your Voice

We encourage you to add your voice by sending an email to the director of the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, Eric Holcomb (eric.holcomb@baltimorecity.gov), and copying the neighborhood’s city council member, Eric Costello (eric.costello@baltimorecity.gov). Click here to see an example letter.

The city’s preservation commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on this issue on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.

Architectural and Historic Significance

Although the houses are rowhouses like thousands of others in Baltimore, they are one of only two rows like them anywhere in the city. They were constructed between 1891 and 1893 in a row that contains ten houses total and, along with the 1000 block of North Calvert Street, are a signature step in Baltimore’s movement from Victorian style houses towards Colonial Revival. They were designed by noted Baltimore architect John Appleton Wilson, who not coincidentally also designed the houses on Calvert Street. 

Photo by Baltimore Heritage boardmember Lashelle Bynum

If you look closely at them, you’ll notice a few unusual and wonderful things. First, they are not the classic Baltimore red brick that so many other rowhouses are made from. They are tan color that likely was intended to make these houses stand out from their older red brick neighbors. They are also grouped in pairs, with the front doors next to each other by twos. These give the houses a more classically symmetrical feel and also make them appear wider than they in fact are. And finally, if you look at the doorways, on each side is a classical Ionic column formed from rounded brick, a feature that architectural historian Fred Shoken says may be unique to this row. 

Dr. Esther Richards lived at 41 West Preston St

In addition to these unusual architectural features, the buildings are part of an unusual history around early women doctors at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Elizabeth Hurdon, a gynecologist, was the first woman hired by Hopkins in 1897. She lived at 31 W. Preston (not proposed for demolition) with Dr. Florence Sabin, who was the first woman hired faculty at Hopkins Medicine and the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences. From 1927 to her death in 1956, Dr. Esther Richards lived a few doors down at 41 W. Preston (which is slated for demolition). Dr. Richards was a Hopkins trained psychiatrist and professor. 


Current Status and Next Steps

Photo by Baltimore Heritage boardmember Lashelle Bynum

Since the mid-1990s, the Greek Church has owned the five buildings they are now proposing to demolish. They have been vacant for many years, but the front facades remain in remarkably good condition. The back portions of the houses, however, are in serious disrepair, including a mature sumac tree that is growing through the back portion of one of them. We are working with the Church to get a look inside, and will go in with the knowledge that there have been many, many rowhouses in the city that were in as bad a shape or worse and were successfully rehabbed and put back into productive use. One thing we are blessed with in Baltimore is a deep bench of architects and contractors who have loads of experience with buildings just like these. 

The city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) is scheduled to hear this issue on Tuesday, December 13, 2022. This is called a “Part 1 Hearing,” and in it CHAP will determine whether the houses continue to contribute to the Mt. Vernon Historic District. In other words, they will decide whether they are in good enough condition to still be deemed “historic.” If the CHAP commission does in fact deem them “historic,” which we highly anticipate they will, and if the Church continues to seek only a demolition solution, there will be a second “Part 2 Hearing” in the future where the CHAP commission will decide whether to grant approval to the demolition proposal.

Add your voice! Click here to see an example letter.

We will keep updating this blog post and the situation develops. 

–Johns Hopkins, Executive Director

Members Make It Happen: Have You Renewed Your Membership?

It’s membership renewal time at Baltimore Heritage! If you haven’t yet done so, please consider joining or renewing your membership today. To learn more about our upcoming walking tours, recent Five Minute Histories videos, the next Friday afternoon virtual histories talks, and more, check out our event calendar!

Your membership makes preservation possible in Baltimore. Thank you for doing so much for our city.