“Next Saturday’s tour of “Lafayette Square By Foot” carries an accurate secondary description: “Baltimore Thru the Ages!” This neighborhood, constructed around a public park, has ties to the Civil War, slavery, and the monied Victorians who gave way to Baltimore’s African-American upper middle class. Did I mention that jazz legend Billie Holiday once lived around the corner too?
The square itself is a fascinating, if overlooked, urban destination. On a chilly April afternoon, I observed its detached beauty. It was quiet and occupies high ground. You could observe its history in the facades of all the grand mansions. You visualize Baltimore’s 19th-century wealth one minute and the next imagine how those fortunes moved on.”
Jacques Kelly, “Lafayette Square shares its history,” The Baltimore Sun, April 11, 2015.
Join us for our Lafayette Square walking tour this weekend and check out the full list of Billie Holliday Centennial Programs this month. You can also learn more about the history of Lafayette Square with the story of the Civil War Lafayette Barracks and our neighborhood history of Harlem Park.
Thank you to Ron Cassie for a detailed and thoughtful take on the legacy of the successful student sit-ins at Read’s Drug Store that took place 60 years ago this month. Check out the full story for more details on the long history of civil-rights student activism by Morgan State students or learn more about our exciting new partnership to document historic places connected with Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage.
A few days later, the front page of the January 22, 1955, national edition of The Afro-American newspaper ran a short story, datelined Baltimore, with the headline “Now serve all.” Read’s, which had 39 area stores, had suddenly decided to desegregate, with the article citing a “sit-down strike” at its “largest store in the heart of the city, the day before the change of policy was announced.” …Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins (distant descendant of the Johns Hopkins) says it was during the late 2000s, when demolition of the Read’s building was formally proposed, that the story of Read’s began to come to life again. He believes the location of the building and its historic sit-ins are central to understanding the city’s complicated record regarding racial prejudice—nowhere more obvious than at Howard and Lexington. The city’s beloved department stores—Hochchild’s, Stewart’s, Hecht’s, and Hutzler’s (“where Baltimore shops!”)—all maintained some form of segregation until 1960 or later.
“When it really hit home for me, what this building and block represent, was when a class of eighth graders and a class of ninth graders came out on separate field trips during demonstrations a few years ago,” Hopkins says. “Their reaction was very powerful. You could see what it meant to them to know that story and to be there, where it happened. It’s one of the few physical places like that in existence in Baltimore. It’s not the Taj Mahal, but landmarks like this draw kids in, and they get interested in learning about that history.”
Continue reading And Service For All: Sixty years ago, Morgan State College students staged the first successful lunch-counter sit-ins by Ron Cassie, Baltimore Magazine (January 2015).
Special thanks to historian Deb Weiner for her efforts to help us keep spreading the word about Baltimore’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum!
New Life for Old Jewish Landmark, Simone Ellin, Baltimore Jewish Times, November 18, 2014.
“I think it’s an incredibly important building,” said local historian Deb Weiner of the Romanesque-style building designed by architects Edward Lupus and Henry A. Roby. “After B’nai Israel and the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it’s probably the most important building to the Baltimore Jewish community. “It represents the era, in the 19th century, when Jews started to build charities,” Weiner continued. “It shows how the community was becoming more affluent and could afford it.” …
“We got involved when there was a proposal to demolish the building,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and a board member of the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation. “Then Coppin State got a new president who thought the building was an asset.” Hopkins and his colleagues worked with Coppin State to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. “It was a slam-dunk,” said Hopkins, “since the building was so significant both architecturally and historically.”
With support from Coppin State, in 2012, the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation, Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and architectural firm Kann Partners were granted a $2.5 million tax credit from the Maryland Sustainable Communities Tax Credit program. A state study later concluded that the neighborhood around the building was one of the five least healthy in the state, leading Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to announce that the neighborhood would encompass one of five new Health Enterprise zones. The Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation will now restore the building and create a full-service medical facility called the Center for Health Care and Healthy Living.
Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us for our Bmore Historic 2014 unconference earlier this month. Read Kate Drabinski’s column for a great take on the day or check out the unconference blog for more details.
Field Tripping: Getting Historic, Kate Drabinski, Baltimore City Paper, October 21, 2014.
“Thing is, though, my job also means that this year’s Bmore Historic Unconference is as much a field trip as a work obligation, and I got to spend the day sharing equal parts curiosity and righteous indignation with a wide swath of Baltimore-area history buffs, museum professionals, preservationists, students, and nerds as we asked those good questions of what counts as history, whose histories matter, and what the heck we should do with them…
Other sessions served as skill-building workshops in oral history, DIY genealogy, connecting youth to history and heritage issues, and how to use open-source web resources to curate online archives and collections. Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage shared its Explore Baltimore Heritage app that allows users to pull up historic photographs and narratives of sites all over the city from their smartphones. Drawing on her work in oral history as part of University of Baltimore’s Baltimore ’68 project, Elizabeth Nix led a packed workshop on how to do oral histories. Participants shared their ongoing Baltimore-based projects gathering the stories of such wide-ranging groups as veterans, LGBTQ people, youth, elders, laborers, suburbanites, and alt kids. These projects hope to bring out the many different and diverse ways that people have made Baltimore home.”
Brutal Reckoning: Developers are anxious to tear down the Mechanic Theatre and McKeldin Fountain, even without a plan (or money) to replace them, Fred Scharmen, Baltimore City Paper, October 14, 2014.
The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre is the first victim of what could be seen as a new wave of demolition. “In the end, this mess over the Mechanic represents a growing wave of historic preservation conflicts taking shape across the country. Modernist buildings from the middle of last century are increasingly falling out of fashion and facing the wrecking ball,” Baltimore Heritage’s Executive Director Johns Hopkins told Urbanite in 2010, when discussing plans to destroy the theater. “In the 1940s and ’50s, Victorian buildings like the Engineers Club, the Winans Mansion, and the Marburg Mansion were all considered drop-dead ugly and not worthy of preservation, and those are among our most prized architectural possessions today.”