Baltimore Revisited: Social History for the Twenty-First Century City will draw from a wide range of researchers inside and outside of the academy to tell the stories of how and why Baltimore looks and functions as it does today. We are specifically looking for heavily researched pieces written in an accessible voice that can offer new perspectives on the city’s social history grounded in the specific places, neighborhoods, and communities in Baltimore. Each chapter could stand alone, but together, they will offer a newer vision of local history from the ground up to complicate our view of the past, as well as the present.
As a consultant to museums and historic sites, I partner with working professionals to address challenges, create new material and generate strategies for programming and visitor engagement. In addition to my consulting work, lately I’ve been teaching undergraduate students in a course through the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University. I love how this teaching experience gives me the time to work with and learn from students as we explore informal learning and museum interpretation. And, because the class I teach is a practicum, students work through their ideas by collaborating with a local museum or organization on a hands-on project. This kind of collaborative work is not just valuable for students. For partner organizations, it’s a chance to gain new perspective on material, themes and practice – and leverage fresh energy and people-power to accomplish projects that may not have been possible alone.
In the Spring of 2014, we partnered with staff from the Homewood Museum and Johns Hopkins University Archives to create interpretive signage for ten sites throughout the University’s Homewood campus. The broad goal for the project, as defined by the students, was to reveal stories about the property where the Homewood campus now sits in order to draw attention to the layers of history that are around us and prompt a dialog that would nurture a deeper “sense of place.”
Developing the signs was a collaborative and iterative process. Each student researched a site – discovering stories of the people who lived and worked there, identifying primary sources, and developing interpretive text. Once these main ingredients were gathered, students tested and refined their text with peers, faculty, scholars, and visitors to campus.
When content and visuals were in final draft form, we partnered with Jeremy Hoffman’s exhibit design course at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Hopkins and MICA students reviewed the sites and stories together and then MICA students developed proposals for both the graphic and structural design of the signs. Over the summer, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the support of the University, the Program in Museums and Society produced and installed the signs according to the students’ vision. A web presence for this work is in the planning as part of the university’s Hopkins Retrospective project, as are related programs on campus.
But most importantly, these signs will only be up for the academic year, so come over to campus and take a look!
Almost immediately after the merger of the Guilford Park Company with the Roland Park Company in 1911 work began on the development of Guilford. A community plan prepared by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. existed and Edward H. Bouton had already been discussing refinements of the plan with Olmsted before the consolidation of the two companies had taken place.
The Roland Park Company sought to assure that Guilford would be a very special place of quality offering all the “conveniences and amenities of life” and the highest “artistic and aesthetic considerations.” In addition to the guidance provided by Olmsted and Edward Palmer, the Roland Park Company’s architect, Bouton brought together experts in landscape and architectural design and the development of suburban communities.
At the outset before there were any improvements the Company appointed a Design Advisory Board. In addition to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Edward Palmer, the Board members were J.B. Noel Wyatt, a noted Baltimore architect and president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects; Grosvenor Atterbury, an architect, urban planner and writer who had been given the commission by the Russell Sage Foundation for the model housing community of Forest Hills Gardens; and Howard Sill, Baltimore architect and designer of a number of Roland Park homes. Bouton when serving as General Manager of Forest Hills Gardens and also remaining as the president of the Roland Park Company had worked both with Atterbury and Olmsted. This group through a series of conferences formulated the principals that were to guide the development of Guilford. It was a group with whom Bouton felt comfortable and shared conviction.
The Roland Park Company brought to the development of Guilford an experience of more than 20 years handling property of similar character. It had the experience in details of design and construction of physical improvements as well as the management and administration of the undertaking. The Company was organized with the following divisions: Architectural Department of Design and Construction, Engineering Department, Building Department and Gardening Department.
In the spring of 1912, site work started in earnest. Grading was undertaken in preparation for road construction, water, sewer and utility lines installed and shortly after road paving and planting started. The systems and roads were initially private and were designed to the highest standards. Olmsted had studied every block of the development, taking care to preserve significant trees and preparing landscape plans for the roadways and community parks. Guilford was marketed as the Roland Park-Guilford District, a prime area of restricted development. Lot sales were undertaken immediately after construction of the infrastructure was underway. The community was planned and marketed as offering a wide range of housing opportunities but with much opportunity for manor-like properties.
The first development of housing was undertaken by the Roland Park Company itself with Edward Palmer as architect. Homes on Chancery Square, built in 1912–13, were the first Guilford homes followed by Bretton Place and York Courts in 1914. All were designed with a distinctly English village appearance, showing design elements adopted from English rural cottages. The six paired Tudor-revival homes of Chancery Square are built surrounding three sides of a street-centered green. They combine half-timbered stucco portions with brick, have steep slate roofs and tall distinctive brick chimneys. They are romantic in appearance and were intended to set an architectural tone and standard and continue the style of homes recently introduced in Roland Park. With fanfare the public was invited to visit these first Guilford homes in 1913.
The Bretton Place homes reflect both English Tudor-revival architecture and the cluster of attached homes within a pillared entrance cul-de-sac very reminiscent of what Attterbury was designing for Forest Hills Gardens. They were unique for Baltimore. As stated by Hayward and Belfoure in The Baltimore Rowhouse,
“Palmer designed Bretton Place, freely combining Tudor half-timbering with elegant Flemish bond, herringbone, and diaper-pattern brickwork using glazed headers; steep slate roofs with hipped and shed-roofed dormers, irregularly massed, oversize chimneys; multi-paned windows, double and triple sash; and a combination of round-arched and steeply pedimented craftsman entryways.”
Bretton Place was designed in response to Bouton’s direction that a series of very elegant “group homes” be built on the outer fringes of the new development. He directed Palmer to come up with a design for “fashionable, highly attractive rows that would be appropriate to the elite suburb and that would provide an elegant housing choice for those persons who did not need the size or want the responsibility of maintaining a large house and yard.” The Bretton Place homes were put on the market in 1914, priced from $6,950 (in fee) for the seven-room version, to $9,875 for the ten-room version According to the July 19, 1914 Baltimore Sun, the company offered to have a motorcar waiting at the entrance to Guilford or “better still, one of our salesmen will gladly call at any designated time, at your residence or office, and take you to Bretton Place.”
About the same time The Roland Park Company was developing Bretton Place, the York Courts were being constructed by the company to the north facing York Road (Greenmount Avenue). These houses also designed by Palmer were intended to complement the Georgian-revival style houses anticipated to be built on the interior lots. Arranged in an open-ended rectangle facing the street, each of the three groups constituted a York Court and shared common front lawn as well as small back yards. The houses were placed back from the street with trees and greenery around them.
The Roland Park Company placed much initial attention on the eastern, northern and southern edges of the Guilford site and took responsibility for the housing that was constructed there because they could not control the development of the areas to the east, north and south of the Guilford tract. As was characteristic of many Olmsted community plans, streets on the outer edges of the tract were designed with the house lots facing inward, toward a green or a cul-de-sac, thus ensuring the privacy of the new development and insulating the inner more expensive house lots from the “lesser neighborhoods” outside of the development. Along York Road, the company had taken yet a further step of designing and constructing the housing shortly after the opening of Guilford. On the north edge, the Norwood cottages would be Palmer designed and company built in a similar action. Many prime inner lots were sold in 1913 and 1914 with active construction following but development was slowed by the outbreak of the World War I.
This piece was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of The Guilford News. Look out for our next guest post from Tom on the history of Guilford soon!
Thanks to Margaret De Arcangelis, Education & Outreach Director with Preservation Maryland for sharing the story of her historic Bolton Hill rowhouse and the adventure of starting an exciting restoration project.
I came across a tweet the other day and could not help but smile: “It’s funny what makes you happy as a home owner. I have baseboards. Yeah!!! J”
As someone who has always enjoyed visiting old houses and loves learning about architecture, I always thought baseboards were great. It was not until this summer, however, when my husband and I bought our first house, that I truly appreciated the value of a well-placed baseboard. This appreciation is largely due to the fact that some of our baseboards, plaster, banisters and light fixtures are missing and I can only dream of the day when they will all be back in place.
Christopher and I did not buy a move-in ready starter house like many people do. Instead Chris has lovingly followed me into what may be my most hare-brained (but wonderful!) idea yet. We bought a true fixer-upper – an 1886 brownstone in Bolton Hill that needs more repair work than I have space to list in this short post. Like so many of the houses in that neighborhood, a prior owner subdivided the house into apartments leaving vestiges of long abandoned kitchens and bathrooms on each floor. Numerous walls were damaged when temporary walls were built and later torn down. Unlike many others rowhouses in Bolton Hill, however, our house remained in the hands of just one family from the 1880s to the 1950s (thank you MD Land Records for providing that fun fact!) and much of the original detail remains intact down to the stylish patterned parquet floors. Much of wood work including our 45 wood windows is covered by only one or two coats of paint and, despite a few missing pieces, the original stained glass transoms are in place and can be repaired.
After searching for the right house for ten months, I knew this was the perfect house for us the first time I saw it. There are so many beautiful details throughout the house that would be impossible or at least cost prohibitive for us to have in any other house. Some days the house does present challenges. The first few times it rained we found a new leak each time. We discovered that the duct tape on one of the sewer lines in the basement was not covering up a small crack in the pipe, but instead was put there to cover the ten inch by two-inch gouge in the pipe. We learned that sometimes the scope of a project changes midway through due to unforeseen circumstances, which may mean you need to remove a 100-year-old piece of Lincrusta from the wall so the plumbers can run new water lines. No matter what the new issue is with our house, all of those feelings of frustration go away each time I go to unlock the front door and am reminded how lucky I am to own such a beautiful old house.
We’re looking for more “old house stories” along with resources, tips and tricks you can share with other old house owners in Baltimore. Join the conversation on Facebook with Baltimore’s New Old House Forum or get in touch with Eli Pousson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy a unique behind the scenes look at the former Centre Theater in today’s photo-filled post on the layered history of 10 East North Avenue. Brennen Jensen is a freelance writer who tromped through many abandoned-but-slated-for-
The painted message high on a cement wall reads “Roll Slow Blow Horn”—not that you can see (or photograph) it all at once through the tattered remains of an erstwhile drop ceiling. I’m standing inside the Centre Theatre building at 10 E. North Ave. Its deco-moderne facade of white travertine and contrasting black soapstone dates to 1939, but as this signage from the past shows, the structure—at least some of it—had an earlier life.
Before it was a glamorous movie theatre and home of once-mighty WFBR radio, old Sun stories indicate it was a car dealership and bi-level parking structure erected in 1913 as the Colonial Garage. The horns that sounded here belonged to Studebakers and Ford Phaetons. The Centre Theatre would see its own adaptive-reuse/destruction in 1959 when it was ignobly carved up into offices for the Equitable Trust Company. And now the nonprofit developer Jubilee Baltimore is on the cusp of adapting the structure once again, as creative space—potential studios, classrooms, performance venues—in keeping with the spirit of the Station North Arts District in which it now resides. There’s a lot of history in these walls, and I have about an hour to see it all.
My guide is Jonathan Lessem, a friend and an architect with Baltimore’s Ziger/Snead, the firm charged with reimagining the edifice for the 21st century. He only has an hour to spare for this impromptu look-around, and beyond that, the place is so overrun with mold that you really can’t stomach a longer visit. The air is positively fetid. And it’s pitch black inside. A flashlight’s slender beam is swallowed up by a vast and gloomy squalor. The largest first floor room sports dark granite tiles beneath a layer of filth. This was likely a public lobby area for the bank. A pair of potted plastic plants is a forlorn and surreal addition.
In the dank darkness there is no point in searching for the gorgeous, curvilinear walls and round proscenium arch of the Centre’s auditorium. The bank obliterated all that. Fittingly, it sort of resembled the Bakelite radios of the era, as the accompanying photo, courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, shows. Old descriptions of the place always make note of a mural in the theatre lobby titled “Man works by day, night is for romance.” All you can see now is that mold is busy around the clock. There are literally stalactites of mold hanging down.
Traces from its garage days are scant, too. Jonathan opens a door and shows me a corner ramp where cars once drove to upper floors. It later became a convenient place for retrofitters to shove air ducts and other mechanical equipment. A 1913 Sun article describes how part of the second floor housed a chauffeur’s lounge, replete with smoking room and billiard tables. (If you were rich enough to own a car back then you were likely loaded enough to hire someone to drive it.) The garage/dealership changed hands and makes of cars sold several times. Early on, a car called a Haynes Light Six was sold here, the onetime motoring pride of Kokomo, Indiana.
The glass block window lighting up a corner stairwell provides the only hint of an earlier 1930s aesthetic. (However, there are plants—real ones this time–growing on the stairs.) A church owned and occupied the rear of the building and walking through its former sanctuary and offices is decidedly spooky because it appears as if the congregation left in a hurry. We’re talking suddenly, and overnight sometime in 2008. They walked away from all manner of office and audio equipment, with Sunday school rooms full of books and half-finished bible lessons on chalkboards. Of course everything is moldy-gross now. It’s amazing what a few years without heat, AC, or a watertight roof can do to a building and its contents.
A backstairs leads us to the truly historic and utterly cool studios of WFBR 1300 AM. A half-moon shaped console festooned with banks of analog meters, lights, and large black dials looks like a steam punk version of spaceship bridge, or perhaps some Dr. Strangelove-era nuclear redoubt. This is the silent, decayed heart of what was once one of Baltimore’s most prominent media outlets. The radio rooms here date to the glamour days of broadcasting, the age of live orchestras and shows such as “Every Woman’s Hour” and “Moonlight in Maryland.” But the station was riding high up through the 1980s. Crazed morning-man DJ Johnny Walker worked here from 1974 to 1987, creating an immensely popular shock-jock shtick long before the likes of Howard Stern. (And Stern’s giggling sidekick, Robin Quivers, worked at WFBR for a bit.) The station broadcast Orioles games between 1979 and 1986, a pretty good run with a World Series in the middle. But the birds flew to another station in ’87, by which time stereo FM already had static-prone AM on the ropes. Walker soon split and the station was sold, ending its days simulcasting an FM station out of Washington—including the Howard Stern Show.
Most of the old equipment here is going to be salvaged, I’m told. Indeed, most of the cool artifacts within have already been tagged for removal prior to the demolition work slated to begin here anytime now. A sun-splashed record library sits silent and empty now, with its ranks of shelving labeled “Greatest Hits” and “Oldies Collection.” I stick my head into a room marked Studio E—and pull it out again in a hurry. Mold and mildew have run rampant on the soundproofed walls and carpeted floors.
In a ramshackle closet full of debris, a reach blindly into a box of old papers to pull out a random sheet to photograph. What I snag is a brief carbon paper dated November 20, 1969 stating that, “Due to Mohawk air crash we deleted one AM and one PM spot.” The airline, you see, crashed a plane into an Upstate New York mountaintop the day before, killing all 14 people on board. I imagine you wouldn’t want jaunty ads promoting an airline’s virtues at the same time that the news carried grim details of a fatal crash. I’ve only heard of Mohawk from AMC’s Mad Men program, where the airline is one of the fictional advertising company’s clients. Indeed, some Mad Men fan blogs have speculated that this very crash might figure in the plot of the upcoming season, which is set in 1969.After a visit to the station’s former lobby/reception area—a study in mid-century modern—we move onward and upward into vast office floors sporting buckling carpet tiles and graffiti. Billions of dollars of bank transactions must have moved through these now decrepit spaces. Only a few rusty vaults provide evidence of their former monetary use. The top floor sports a massive roof failure where sunlight—and mold-engendering rain—enters the building. We can step out on the roof here, right behind the marquee tower, which is revealed to be totally hollow inside. As phony as a movie set.
It’s safe to say my trip up through a century of Baltimore history has been breathtaking, even if sometimes it was a little hard to breath.