Baltimore Heritage has advocated for preserving buildings in the Market Center historic district on the west side of downtown for almost twenty years. Six years ago, our campaign for the preservation of Read’s Drug Store (and the threatened five-and-dime stores along the 200 block of W. Lexington Street) helped to bring the history of the proposed Five and Dime historic district to broader public attention and won the stores a temporary reprieve from demolition.
Last week, we testified to support a proposal by the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to designate a new local historic district granting the stores, banks, and offices along Lexington, Howard, Liberty and Fayette Streets the lasting protection they deserve. Fortunately, the commission voted to approve the designation and the proposal will continue for a hearing before the City Council before it can be officially designated later this year. The Five and Dime district is one of two new historic districts coming to the area after CHAP approved the new Howard Street district at their hearing on July 11.
We believe that these local district designations will offer a clear, consistent, and predictable design review framework for existing property owners and potential investors. In a welcome change from their position six years ago, the Baltimore Development Corporation is actively supporting the preservation of the city-owned buildings in the Market Center area through stabilization work and new preservation requirements for developers responding to requests for proposals. The districts will also be a tool to protect privately owned buildings from demolition or inappropriate changes.
The buildings within the new districts are important not just for their architecture but also for the stories of the everyday people who worked and shopped in these buildings: from humble retail clerks to bank executives to student protestors. Preserving the stories of these people is important to the civic identity and memory of Baltimore’s residents, the success of heritage tourism in Baltimore City, and the continued development of the Market Center area.
Thank you to Ron Cassie for a detailed and thoughtful take on the legacy of the successful student sit-ins at Read’s Drug Store that took place 60 years ago this month. Check out the full story for more details on the long history of civil-rights student activism by Morgan State students or learn more about our exciting new partnership to document historic places connected with Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage.
A few days later, the front page of the January 22, 1955, national edition of The Afro-American newspaper ran a short story, datelined Baltimore, with the headline “Now serve all.” Read’s, which had 39 area stores, had suddenly decided to desegregate, with the article citing a “sit-down strike” at its “largest store in the heart of the city, the day before the change of policy was announced.” …Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins (distant descendant of the Johns Hopkins) says it was during the late 2000s, when demolition of the Read’s building was formally proposed, that the story of Read’s began to come to life again. He believes the location of the building and its historic sit-ins are central to understanding the city’s complicated record regarding racial prejudice—nowhere more obvious than at Howard and Lexington. The city’s beloved department stores—Hochchild’s, Stewart’s, Hecht’s, and Hutzler’s (“where Baltimore shops!”)—all maintained some form of segregation until 1960 or later.
“When it really hit home for me, what this building and block represent, was when a class of eighth graders and a class of ninth graders came out on separate field trips during demonstrations a few years ago,” Hopkins says. “Their reaction was very powerful. You could see what it meant to them to know that story and to be there, where it happened. It’s one of the few physical places like that in existence in Baltimore. It’s not the Taj Mahal, but landmarks like this draw kids in, and they get interested in learning about that history.”
We were excited to partner with Greenpants and Luminous Interventions at the Transmodern Festival last week on a tour of Downtown’s West Side. Our walk featured building-sized light and video projections during the tour animated the stories of historic sites along Howard Street. Find more images of the projections from Luminous Interventions.