Today’s feature is our final post from Dr. John Breihan in our year long Baltimore Building of the Week series. Thank you to Dr. Breihan for a tremendous exploration of Baltimore’s rich architectural history and the many building’s saved by generations of Baltimore preservationists. At the very end of our 50th Anniversary Year, this week’s feature reflects on the future of architectural history and historic preservation in Baltimore with a discussion of the 1986 250 West Pratt Street building.
Which of today’s Baltimore buildings will we fight to preserve in the future? My leading candidate is the rather anonymous office tower known only by its address (My suggestion, The Flight of Stairs Building, not having caught on). Designed by America’s foremost corporate architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and opened in 1986, 250 West Pratt is sheathed in high-tech polished marble and mirror glass. Here, form does indeed follow function, as the widely-spaced vertical indentations in the principal facades really correspond to structural steel columns bearing exceptionally wide-span beams. Cool and elegantly abstract, this is an iconic building for the decade of the 1980s.
One day around the year 2050, when its air conditioning plant or fiberoptic cables have become hopelessly obsolete, some future development corporation may call for the demolition of 250 West Pratt (which by then will have at least acquired a name, say, Twitter Tower). Baltimore Heritage, then celebrating its centennial year, will again remind Baltimoreans how their beautiful and unique city is enriched and inspired by these buildings and monuments of the past.
One of the most exciting stories for a historic building in the past year has been the unfortunate closure then welcome rebirth of The Senator Theatre. Read on for Dr. John Breihan’s second to last Baltimore Building of the Week and find more information on the ongoing renovations of this building at the Senator Renovation Blog.
Although it has reigned for decades as queen of Baltimore movie theaters, the Senator was built as a “neighborhood house,” offering only faint competition to the downtown picture palaces like the Hippodrome. It opened in 1939, with streamlined architecture reminiscent of a Chrysler Air-Flow or a Lockheed Vega, and a location in the midst of a neighborhood shopping district (which still contains some other art-deco standouts). For years, the Senator managed to get by despite the megacomplexes in suburban malls. In 2009, it was bailed out by the City of Baltimore and placed under new management. Any future alterations will have to conform to review by the City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. In an unusual move, CHAP designated the theater’s distinctive interiors (including decorated rest rooms) as city landmarks, as well as its exterior.
This week’s featured Baltimore Building is the Roland Park Shopping Center. Read more about the history of the Roland Park neighborhood on the Roland Park website.
Around 1900 the curving streets and extensive landscaping of the “garden suburb” provided an attractive alternative to the stately rows and squares that had long housed Baltimore’s elites. Roland Park was by no means the first garden suburb, even in Baltimore (see Sudbrook Park), but it was the most fully realized, with its streetcar line, parkway entrance, country club, architectural (and racial) covenants, and innovative shopping center. Built in 1895, the half-timbered shopping center with its flamboyant Flemish gable, housed essential neighborhood shops below and doctors’ and dentists’ offices above. What was new is that all this was set back from the street – to give parking space for the automobiles that were soon to choke the old gridded city. A dentist has decided to restore this to it’s previous glory and it will be used to house his practice and other medical offices. It will take some time for the restoration since everything has to be approved by the historical board but he is up for the challenge. This is why I moved here he has told the neighbors.
Under the leadership of Edward H. Bouton, the Roland Park Company not only built Guilford, Homeland, and Original Northwood for Baltimore’s upper middle class, but participated in plans for worker housing during the two world wars, planning more modest garden suburbs at Dundalk and Cherry Hill.
This week’s Baltimore Building from the Week from Dr. John Breihan is the iconic Bromo Seltzer Tower. After you learn a bit about the building, you can see it in person and pick up a few holiday gifts at The Shop at Bromo selling an assorted collection of original arts and crafts by local artisans from now through Saturday, January 8, 2011.
Baltimore’s favorite Beaux-Arts building is modeled on the tower of the fortified medieval Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, begun in 1299. Just over six hundred years later, Captain Isaac E. Emerson, a Baltimore pharmacist, visited Florence and determined to bring a bit of it back to his home town. He had the means to do so because of the success of Bromo-Seltzer, a fizzy cure for various forms of overindulgence. In 1911, he commissioned a replica tower, 20 feet shorter than the original, to be attached to the six-story plant of the Emerson Chemical Co. Unlike the tower in Florence, this was of modern steel-framed construction and equipped with an elevator; its wall were pierced by numerous windows, giving Bromo-Seltzer executives sweeping views over downtown Baltimore.
In 1936, the revolving 30-foot Bromo-Seltzer bottle atop the building (another deviation from the Florentine original) was removed due to structural cracks. In the 1970s, the old selzer plant was demolished and replaced by a brutalist fire station but the huge Bromo Selzer clock still remains and, in 2007, the tower was remodeled for artists’ studios. In its uniqueness and varied history the Bromo Tower symbolizes the successes of historic preservation in Baltimore.
This week’s Baltimore Building of the Week could go by many different names. It began as the Baltimore Trust Company but was later known as the Maryland National Bank, Nations Bank and at the present the Bank of America Building–
Besides college campuses, the Beaux-Arts combination of the historical Gothic style and modern technology was very popular for skyscrapers. Some, like the Woolworth Building in New York or the Chicago Tribune tower, were directly modeled on medieval precedent – just enormously taller. Other early 20th-century skyscrapers combined Gothic verticality with streamlined decorations derived from the new airplane and automobile industries. New York’s Chrysler Building is a prime example. Its contemporary in Baltimore, originally the Baltimore Trust Co., leans more to Gothic than to Art Deco, especially in its cavernous banking floor. At 34 stories and 509 feet, it was Baltimore’s tallest building for a generation before being edged out by I.M. Pei’s USF&G tower, 529 feet. Baltimore Trust went bankrupt in the Great Depression, but a succession of banks have maintained this crowning spire of the Baltimore skyline.