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Baltimore Cast Iron Buildings

Overview

Baltimore is an American center for cast iron buildings, although the number left standing in Baltimore is dwindling. A century ago, there were more than 100 of them. By 1962, the city was down to 36 buildings with full cast iron fronts. Today, there are only 9 of these left, and an additional 13 with cast iron storefronts. Many cast iron buildings were destroyed in the 1904 fire, and many more were demolished as part of various urban renewal projects.

Most of Baltimore’s cast iron buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. This provides some level of preservation protection when there are federal or state funds involved in a redevelopment project. It does not provide any protection when private financing or city funds are used exclusively. Of the cast iron fronted buildings once standing in Baltimore, only a handful remain. These were identified by James Dilts and Catherine Black in their 1991 book on Baltimore’s cast iron architecture, Baltimore’s Cast-Iron Buildings & Architectural Ironwork, published in association with Baltimore Heritage.

History

Cast iron, unlike wrought iron, is formed by pouring hot iron into a mold. The Sun Iron Building, built by A.S. Abell in 1851, was the initial large-scale commercial building built using all-iron construction. This building, which received international acclaim, perished in the 1904 Fire. Between roughly 1850 and 1900, cast iron became a new and desirable building material across the United State. Baltimore’s Bartlett, Robbins & Co. was one of the nation’s premiere architectural iron works facility and produced many of the city’s cast iron fronts, as well as fronts for buildings in New York, New Orleans, and Portland Oregon, among others. With the advent of steel and new construction techniques at the turn of the 20th century, however, the use of architectural iron decreased sharply. Today, the cast iron fronted buildings left standing in Baltimore are a beautiful and important link with our past.