The Mitchell Law Office in Upton is set to receive $1.75 million from Congressman Kweisi Mfume. This money will be used to transform the building, which was once the office of Maryland’s first Black woman lawyer, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, into a legal hub in West Baltimore. Rev. Al Hathaway of Beloved Community Services Corporation is spearheading this alongside his other project, the PS 103/Thurgood Marshall School restoration. Here is a link to a Baltimore Banner article that ran yesterday.
About 7 years ago, Baltimore Heritage secured $10,000 from the National Trust of Historic Preservation to stabilize the roof of the Mitchell Law Office. This was the project’s first funding and helped get the restoration going. We’ve been involved in several ways since then and will continue to help wherever we can.
The Mitchell Law Office restoration joins several other ongoing West Baltimore restoration projects including PS 103 and Upton Mansion (for the Afro American offices), along with the already-completed Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. We are very near to having a critical mass of nationally important Civil Rights sites that have been restored, all within a few blocks of each other. For several years Baltimore Heritage, Rev. Hathaway and others have been talking about how to put Baltimore on the national map as a Civil Rights heritage destination. We’re making progress!
On April 3, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott signed the legislation to create the Sarah Ann Street Local Historic District. This action 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. Now Black Women Build will redevelop these historic homes. A big thank you and congratulations to the Eaddy family and Organize Poppleton for their sustained campaign to save these historic homes!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This afternoon the city’s historic preservation commission (CHAP) advanced the nomination for Sarah Ann Street in the Poppleton neighborhood of West Baltimore to become a local historic district. The district would include the alley houses in the 1100 block of Sarah Ann Street that have been owned by Black Baltimore families since they were built in the 1870s, as well as two houses on North Carrollton Street that also have rich histories. The next step for the nomination is for the preservation commission to conduct further research and solicit additional input from the public before holding a second and final hearing this fall.
We at Baltimore Heritage first got involved in the effort to save these historic houses from being demolished back in 2004. We joined neighborhood residents, including homeowner Sonia Eaddy and her family who still live there and are still active advocating for their homes, along with retired judge Tom Ward who worked for decades preserving historic places in West Baltimore. The city’s recent willingness to create a new historic district and preserve the houses comes after years of uncertainty. It also comes after new allies joined the fight, including Dr. Nicole King and her students from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
If you would like to have your voice heard on this issue, you can email comments to the preservation commission’s executive director, Eric Holcomb: firstname.lastname@example.org. And check back here for additional information as the Sarah Ann Street historic district proposal advances.