Update – April 13, 2018: The March 8 auction was cancelled. The auction was rescheduled for Thursday, May 3 at 12:00 p.m.
The former Home of the Friendless, an 1870 orphanage located at 1313 Druid Hill Avenue in Upton, is up for sale in a foreclosure auction scheduled for Thursday, May 3 at 12:00 p.m. Two years ago, Baltimore Housing awarded the building to local developer AZ Group through the Vacants to Value Surplus Property Sale. Unfortunately, while the building was approved for state historic tax credits last year, the plan to convert the 13,300-square-foot building into seventeen apartments never found the financing required for rehabilitation work to begin.
With this new sale, we’re hoping the building finds a new developer that recognizes the importance of this West Baltimore landmark and find a way to bring it back to life. Learn more about the auction by Melnick Auctioneers or see photographs of the Home of the Friendless on Flickr.
Home of the Friendless Property Information:
Address: 1313 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217
Early this afternoon we got a call from a neighbor in Upton’s Marble Hill, alerting us that Public School 103, Thurgood Marshall’s elementary school, was on fire. The Baltimore City Fire Department is still working to contain the fire but the damage is clearly devastating. The roof is destroyed across large portions of the building and the interior has suffered terrible damage.
Public School 103 was built on Division Street in 1877. The school changed from serving white to black students in 1910 when it was first used for students from nearby Public School No. 112. In March 1911, the school was officially designated Public School 103. Thurgood Marshall began attending the school just three years later and continued as a student up through 8th grade in 1921. Today, many Baltimoreans remember it as the “Division Street School” or Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School. After the school closed in the early 1970s, the Upton Planning Committee moved in. The Upton Planning Committee continued to use the structure for arts and cultural programs and community meetings up until they vacated the building in the 1990s.
While the building had stood vacant for many years, Baltimore City and the Baltimore National Heritage Area had been working to promote the reuse and rehabilitation of the building. Building on the work of a Mayoral Commission established in 2008, the Heritage Area led efforts to repair the building’s roof and remove asbestos. Baltimore Housing solicited development proposals for the building last year as part of the Vacants to Value surplus surplus property sale.
Read more about today’s fire from the Baltimore Sun or read the PS 103 Commission reports for more on the history of the building. We are will continue working with the Baltimore National Heritage Area, Upton residents, and supporters of Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage to preserve Public School 103 and recover from this difficult setback.
On January 12, the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) voted unanimously to add the George W. King/Abraham Briscoe House at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue to the city’s historic potential landmark list. Baltimore Heritage worked closely with the Marble Hill Community Association to prepare the landmark nomination. CHAP clearly saw how important it is to save places tied to Baltimore’s African American and Civil Rights heritage—especially after tragic loss of the Freedom House at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue this past fall. The experiences of Abraham Briscoe and the generations of Baltimoreans who lived at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue reflects the history of the Great Migration, racial segregation and the Civil Rights movement in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Fortunately, potential landmark designation protects 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from demolition for the next six months. But because this is only a potential landmark nomination, these protections run out in July unless the Baltimore City Council takes action first. If a member of the City Council introduces an ordinance to list the property as a full city landmark before July, the protections are immediately extended for another eighteen months. If the City Council votes to approve the ordinance and the Mayor signs it into law before the end of that period, the city gives 1232 Druid Hill Avenue landmark status forever.
Last week, we reached out to Councilman Eric Costello (who represents the Upton neighborhood as part of the 11th District) to ask him to join us in protecting this landmark and introduce a landmark designation ordinance. If you are resident of the 11th District, we urge you to reach out to Councilman Costello and share your own support for preserving 1232 Druid Hill Avenue by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saving 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from demolition is an important step forward in our efforts to preserve Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage. We are interested in working with Bethel AME Church to see 1232 Druid Hill Avenue redeveloped for use as a home or community space. We are working residents to expand the Marble Hill Historic District and protect other properties at the edges of the district. We are supporting neighborhood activists fighting for the stabilization of the Harry S. Cummings House at 1318 Druid Hill Avenue. Please subscribe for updates on Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage for ongoing updates on these efforts and share your own thoughts in the comments.
1234 Druid Hill Avenue had a story unlike any other. Harry S. Cummings, Baltimore’s first black City Councilman lived at the handsome rowhouse with his family from 1899 to 1911. In the 1950s and 1960s, the building served as offices to the local chapter of the NAACP, hosting Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt when they came to Baltimore to work with key leaders like Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson. In 1970, the property became “Freedom House” and continued to serve as a central hub of activism before Dr. Jackson donated the house to Bethel AME Church in 1977. Today, the house is demolition site piled high with bricks and debris.
Yesterday afternoon, Baltimore Heritage supported a rally organized by civil rights and heritage leaders Marvin Cheatham and Louis Fields to protest the demolition of the Freedom House by Bethel AME Church and start a conversation around saving threatened historic Civil Rights landmarks in the neighborhood. As we shared on Wednesday, members of the Marble Hill Community Association, who have been working to encourage the preservation of the Freedom House for years, were unable to stop the demolition when they contacted city officials with concerns in September and October. Regrettably, Baltimore Heritage only learned about this issue after the demolition began.
You can read more about the rally in the Baltimore Sun or see coverage from WJZ CBS. We are seeking a meeting with the leadership of Bethel AME Church and City Councilman Eric Costello to better understand how this demolition took place and what we can do to protect the building next door at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from the immediate threat of demolition. We are also working with Baltimore’s preservation commission and neighborhood residents to expand the boundaries of the Upton’s Marble Hill CHAP District.
Where do we go from here?
The rally gave our community a place to voice concerns and to make plans for the future. We lost one important building this week but there are many more that still need our help. We have already identified seven Civil Rights landmarks in Upton alone that are threatened by neglect. You can help by sharing your knowledge about buildings or sites associated with Baltimore’s Civil Rights movement more information about these and other properties or by exploring our map of Civil Rights site to learn more.
Here are three of the buildings in historic Marble Hill that we are working to preserve:
Mitchell Family Law Office
1239 Druid Hill Avenue served as law offices for Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and other members of the Mitchell family. An accomplished lawyer and activist, Juanita Jackson Mitchell organized the Citywide Young People’s Forum in the 1930s to push for more opportunity for black youth during the Great Depression. Clarence Mitchell, Jr. served as the long-time lobbyist for the NAACP and played a key role in the passage of major Civil Rights legislation. The roof of 1239 Druid Hill Avenue collapsed during the winter of 2014 and the building is severely threatened by neglect.
Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell, Jr. House
Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell moved to 1324 Druid Hill Avenue in 1942, the same year Clarence started working at the Fair Employment Practices Commission set up by President Roosevelt to fight workplace discrimination during WWII. Visitors at the home included Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, and Marian Anderson. The couple raised five sons at the house and continued to live there until the end of their lives. Baltimore City stabilized the roof and rear wall of the building in 2013 but it remains vacant and in poor condition.
Druid Health Center/Home of the Friendless
A former orphanage (listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Home of the Friendless), the Druid Hill Health Center at 1313 Druid Hill Avenue was the first public health center for African Americans in Baltimore. Years of vacancy and neglect have caused the building to deteriorate and neighborhood residents have pushed the city to stabilize the structure without success. A local developer recently submitted a proposal for 14 artist residences with preliminary support by the Marble Hill Community Association.
Why are we fighting to save Civil Rights heritage?
We believe that these buildings are important for the stories they hold and the lessons they teach. We also recognize that we cannot separate historic preservation from the difficult issues of vacancy and disinvestment in Upton and in many of Baltimore’s historically African American communities. To save Baltimore’s Civil Rights sites, we must listen to the people who live nearby and work together to revitalize their neighborhoods.
We do not yet have the solution to the decades-old problems of disinvestment that threaten so many homes in Marble Hill, but we do believe that preserving historic buildings is part of a solution. The stories behind these buildings help us understand Baltimore’s history of segregation and discrimination—a history that still contributes to challenges in these neighborhoods today. As Baltimore’s own Frederick Douglass remarked in 1884:
It is not well to forget the past. Memory was given to man for some wise purpose. The past is… the mirror in which we may discern the dim outlines of the future.
With Frederick Douglass’s words in mind, we are working to turn Civil Rights landmarks throughout the city back into assets for Baltimore neighborhoods and address the inequality that continues in too many Baltimore communities. Please help us find ways to save our city’s diverse heritage and build a stronger and more equitable future for Baltimore by contributing to our growing list of identified Civil Rights heritage sites and subscribing for updates on this important work.