Earlier this week the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a multi-million dollar contract clearing the way for the state Division of Corrections to move forward with the demolition of a large part of the Baltimore City Correctional Complex located just east of the Jones Falls Expressway. For now, the scope of demolition doesnot include the historic Warden’s House, the per-Civil War “castle” on Madison Street.
Thanks to an agreement between the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Maryland Historical Trust, the state will wait to make a final decision on the Warden’s House and a small portion of the west wing of the former Maryland Penitentiary along Eager Street. The plan does preserve the Penitentiary’s iconic central tower which has never been considered for demolition.
The Board of Public Works’ recent approval comes four years after Governor Hogan closed the facility and two years after the General Assembly allocated funds for the demolition of the complex. Since the state allocated those funds, the Corrections Department developed a plan that includes the demolition of over a dozen buildings on the site. Work under the new contract will begin soon.
The Warden’s House and small portion of the west wing of the Maryland Penitentiary are not included in this round of demolition but they are also not yet relieved from the threat of being razed. The Division of Corrections has only agreed to defer a decision on the demolition of these structures and consult with the Maryland Historical Trust on the future of these buildings.
While the demolition of the historic buildings within this complex is a loss for the city’s architectural heritage, our advocacy, along with Preservation Maryland, AIA Baltimore, and the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, helped to secure more time to seek the preservation of the Warden’s House and a portion of the West Wing. We and our partners will continue to push for permanently preserving the these two historic buildings and better incorporate the Maryland Penitentiary into whatever new plans are eventually adopted.
A breach of public trust. This is at the heart of yesterday’s demolition of two 1840s stone houses in Woodberry. We are shocked and angry to see the loss of these two buildings—and anxious to protect Woodberry’s historic buildings from more demolition.
Over the past year, Woodberry residents, City Councilman Leon Pinkett, and preservation organizations, including Baltimore Heritage and Preservation Maryland, rallied to protest initial plans for demolition, attended meetings, offered comments, and worked with the development team on a proposal to incorporate elements of the existing Clipper Road buildings into a proposed new apartment building. The developers presented this revised plan at a community meeting last fall and again in January 2019 at a public hearing before the city planning department’s Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel. Baltimore Heritage along with the community association, Councilman Pinkett, and others supported this compromise.
Then, yesterday morning, both stone houses were demolished without warning. After hearing the news, the architectural firm for the project, PI.KL Studio, resigned. The development partner, Mr. Christopher Mfume at CLD Partners, at first defended the demolitions then late yesterday announced that he had also left the project. The Baltimore Sun reported that the owner of the site, Woodberry Station LLC, and its resident agent Katherine Jennings could not be reached for comment.
We don’t want to see another loss like this one in Woodberry. We hope the neighborhood will seriously consider renewing efforts to work with the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and become a designated local historic district. Proposals to demolish or alter historic buildings within CHAP districts require review by CHAP staff and, often, the full CHAP commission. Most importantly, city law requires that these reviews take place before a demolition permit can be issued. Woodberry has considered becoming a CHAP district in the past, and Baltimore Heritage stands ready to assist if the neighborhood’s residents want to consider doing so again.
This morning, my colleague Eli and I stopped by the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and took in a welcome sight: construction workers everywhere building a new structure inside the brick walls of the nation’s oldest surviving Jewish orphanage. Work is well underway to turn this once neglected building into a much needed healthcare facility in West Baltimore.
The road to this morning’s busy scene was a long one. Baltimore Heritage first became involved with the Asylum in 2005, nearly fifteen years ago. Today, we wanted to share the story behind the building’s transition. Over the past decade, the building has gone from vacant and slated for demolition to a site of rebuilding and renewal. We hope that a brief recap of the milestones on this journey can provide a little insight into the world of historic preservation and hope for Baltimoreans and others working on their own uphill preservation projects!
Slated for Demolition
In 2005, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum’s owner, Coppin State University, announced plans to tear down the building. The university sought to avoid the continued expense of maintaining the vacant structure and envisioned creating a “south campus” on the site at some undetermined later date. For years, Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Historical Trust urged CSU officials to preserve and reuse the building rather than demolish it.
In 2010, we nominated the Hebrew Orphan Asylum to the National Register of Historic Places and called for people across the city to support the building’s entry in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters” competition. We didn’t win, but still came in sixth place and made a lot of new friends who cared about this historic landmark. With a change in leadership at CSU and wider public recognition of the building’s significance, the university eventually agreed to hold off on demolition even without a clear plan for what to do next.
Community-Centered Planning and Health
Over the next seven years, we worked with the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation and residents in the Greater Rosemont community to develop a plan for reusing the building. We secured funding from Preservation Maryland to prepare a new strategic vision for the building’s redevelopment. Armed with a state study showing that the area around the Asylum has the greatest level of health care disparity in Maryland, the community and CDC determined that bringing a medical facility back into the building was an ideal opportunity.
After years of effort, the CDC convinced Coppin State University to sell the building and worked out an agreement for its purchase. This was the first time in recent memory that the University of Maryland system had sold a building, and the transaction required years of significant legal work—with special credit to pro-bono counsel Ballard Spahr. With a Maryland Historical Trust preservation easement protecting the exterior of the building, the CDC became the owners of the Asylum in 2017.
That same year, the CDC took another significant step forward when Behavioral Health System Baltimore and the Baltimore City Health Department committed to lease the entire building for health care use. The first program to go into the building is the new Crisis Stabilization Center—an innovative drug treatment program being introduced to Baltimore. Additional healthcare-related offices and programs are expected to follow.
Financing and the Future
At the same time, Baltimore Heritage worked to apply for state and federal historic tax credits to stabilize and eventually rehab the building. First with Kann Partners Architects and now with Waldon Studio Architects and Southway Builders as partners, we secured several million dollars in historic tax credits that jump started the fundraising process. With historic tax credits in hand, the CDC secured additional contributions from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the Weinberg Foundation. With help from a local development consultant, Cross Street Partners, the CDC finally secured a bank loan in December 2018 to finance the overall $16 million construction cost.
Construction at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum is now scheduled to finish in 2020 when doors open for the new stabilization center and health care offices. It has taken many partners to go from the brink of demolition to the promising future of today, including everybody who has supported Baltimore Heritage over the last many years. Your membership gifts, ticket purchases for walking tours, and end-of-year giving have allowed us to stick with the Asylum as advocates, community organizers, fundraisers, and partners.
Thank you to all of you who have carried us during our fourteen years of work and helped get us this far. Keep the faith that we will make it to the finish line with the Asylum, and we’ll keep you updated on the first opportunity we can get inside for a Behind the Scenes hard hat tour!
We are pleased to announce an exciting new grant fund for Baltimore non-profits to preserve historic places and even more pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications. Take a look at the grant guidelines and then submit a nomination by April 12, 2019.
The Baltimore Historic Preservation Fund is a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland, and the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. Our goal is provide direct assistance for capital and non-capital projects that advance efforts to preserve historically significant places in Baltimore City.
Any tax-exempt organizations doing historic preservation work in Baltimore City is eligible to apply. Grant requests between $1,000 and $10,000 will be the most competitive. Projects eligible for funding include rehabilitation work, preparation of National Register nominations, and education, research, and planning efforts related to historic preservation projects.
The Baltimore City Historic Preservation Fund has a limited amount of money to give away, but we are eager to help support good work in Baltimore. If you have any questions, please contact Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins at 410-332-9992 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Martick’s Restaurant Francais on Mulberry Street is a place of fond memories where Baltimore enjoyed fine food, lively music, and art for nearly a century. After a decade of vacancy, the former restaurant is now threatened by a new development project.
While the developer, the Vituvius Development Company, has proposed reusing some buildings on the block, they are seeking to tear down Martick’s citing the difficulty of reusing the deteriorated structure. Yesterday afternoon, Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) voted unanimously to recognize the buildings importance to the local historic district—but the building may still be at risk.
The once-famous restaurant started in 1917 as a small grocery store established by Harry and Florence Martick, both Jewish Polish immigrants. The Federal style corner building is even older—dating back to at least 1852—and the Martick family continued to live above the shop raising a family of five children. Following the end of Prohibition, the store (which may have already been operating as an illegal speakeasy) turned into a bar later known as Martick’s Tyson Street Tavern. After Harry’s death in the the 1940s, Florence’s five children pitched in to keep the business going. Morris Martick turned the family bar into a unique institution reportedly attracting what journalist Alan Feiler called “a mix of artists, musicians, journalists, working Joes and assorted self-styled bohemians, beats and hipsters” in the 1940s and 1950s.
But, by the 1960s, Morris Martrick was ready for a change. After a failed run for state legislature, Morris traveled to France where he studied French cooking and attracted a chef. Returning to Baltimore, he renovated and re-opened the bar as Martick’s Restaurant Francais in 1970. The restaurant’s reputation grew, eventually attracting celebrity guests that include Baltimore-born filmmaker John Waters, actor Nicolas Cage and actress Barbara Hershey. The restaurant closed in 2008 and Morris Martrick passed away in 2011 at eighty-eight years old.
Regrettably, the building has sat vacant ever since the restaurant closed. After a proposal for redeveloping the building fell through last year, the property sold to Vituvius Development Company that has submitted a plan for the development of the entire block for a six-story apartment building with storefronts on the first floor and about one hundred apartments on the upper stories. While the proposal preserves and incorporates the historic buildings along Park Avenue, as well as a BG&E substation on the site, the developer is seeking the demolition of Martick’s as part of their plan. The adjoining parking lot was already torn down late last year in anticipation of the project.
CHAP’s vote yesterday afternoon is the first step of a two-step process for property owners seeking to tear down buildings inside local historic districts. The developer could reconsider their plan and find a way to incorporate Martick’s into their proposal—or return to CHAP in the next few months to ask the commission to allow demolition under a “financial hardship” provision. As Ed Gunts reported in the Baltimore Fishbowl, the developer has cited concerns about the feasibility of redevelopment due to the “immense deterioration of the structure” over the past decade.
Baltimore Heritage is urging the developer to recognize Martick’s Restaurant Francais as a unique local landmark and reconsider their plans for demolition. We welcome new investment in long vacant buildings around Market Center but we also believe redevelopment can benefit from reusing historic buildings wherever possible.
You can join us in supporting the preservation of the former Martick’s Restaurant by emailing Stacy Montgomery, CHAP planner, at email@example.com to share your support for the building’s preservation.