At a time when neoclassical architecture was in style, this gothic chapel, built in 1808, was an anomaly. Indeed, it is probably the first Gothic Revival building in the United States. It ushered in an era of eclecticism, in which architects worked different styles at the same time. The architect here was Maximilian Godefroy, recruited as a faculty member at St. Mary’s Seminary, founded in 1781 as Baltimore’s first institution of higher education. Godefroy was clearly happier in the neoclassical style (at the Battle Monument and the First Unitarian Church). The chapel is stiff and symmetrical, with “flying buttresses” facing the wrong way, but it pleased his patrons – Sulpician fathers homesick for the gothic monuments of their native France. The Seminary moved to Roland Park in 1927, but the Sulpicians should be congratulated for continuing to maintain this important building.
A panel from the Urban Land Institute that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake engaged around the redevelopment of downtown’s “West Side” recently delivered preliminary recommendations (more from the Baltimore Sun). As the area continues to be in the spotlight and we continue working towards a renewed and revitalized West Side, we thought it would be helpful to provide a short recap of how redevelopment plans that have evolved from early proposals calling for widespread demolition to current plans based on both preservation and redevelopment.
The “West Side” of Baltimore’s downtown is an area roughly bounded by Pratt Street (south), Read Street (north), Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (west), and Liberty Street/Charles Center (east). From the late 1700s through the 1940s, the West Side grew as a vital center of transportation, commerce, and cultural life. This growth first began with Lexington Market in 1782–a place that inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson to declare Baltimore the “Gastronomical Center of the Universe”– and continued in the early 20th century with the construction of dozens of premiere department stores and movie theaters that many Baltimoreans still remember fondly. Unfortunately, in the late 20th century retail shopping and investment drifted out to Baltimore’s suburbs, many of these businesses closed, and their buildings began to decay from neglect.
After years of decline, Baltimore City proposed a plan in the 1990s that took an old-fashioned urban renewal approach to redevelopment and threatened to demolish 150 or more historic buildings (See Baltimore City Council Ordinance 98-333, 1998). In response, Baltimore Heritage and our partner Preservation Maryland developed a preservation based strategy for the revitalization of the West Side (PDF). This strategy proposed focusing new construction on existing vacant lots, rehabbing existing buildings for new uses, and reducing the number of historic buildings slated for demolition. In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Baltimore’s West Side on its annual list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in recognition of the threat to one of the best collections of historic buildings in any downtown. In 2000, the National Register of Historic Places listed the West Side as the Market Center Historic District designating hundreds of West Side buildings as significant historic structures.
In 2001 with strong encouragement state legislature, Baltimore City adopted a new preservation-based strategic plan (PDF) and signed an agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust laying out a process for preserving historic buildings and moving forward with revitalization. Many of us celebrated the agreement, which has been in effect in the decade since and continues to guide development today. This agreements supported the rejuvenation of nearly 50 historic buildings, including the rehab of the former Stewart’s Department Store as Catholic Relief Services, the Hippodrome Theatre’s transformation into the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, and the reuse of a handsome retail block on Franklin Street as St. James Place. These projects and many more reflect hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment with substantial support from state and federal historic tax credits. However, the real challenge is that redevelopment has taken much longer than envisioned and much of the area, including the Superblock along Lexington Street east of Lexington Market and the Howard Street corridor, is still characterized by vacant buildings and limited street life.
Most recently, Mayor Rawlings-Blake convened a panel from the Urban Land Institute to provide recommendations to jump-start a new phase of revitalization on the West Side. The ULI panel provided preliminary recommendations on December 10, 2010 and final written recommendations from the ULI panel are due to the Mayor in the spring. In one of their most important points, the panel highlighted the West Side’s historic buildings as the area’s greatest asset. Baltimore Heritage is dedicated to supporting a process that can reestablish the West Side as a great Baltimore neighborhood with a distinctive historic character and thriving street life that can attract residents and businesses from across the city and the nation. Our series continues next week with a discussion on the “Superblock” and how historic Lexington Street–formerly known as the heart of downtown–is at the center of this effort to preserve and revitalize the West Side as a great place for Baltimore.
We’ve been busy this fall getting ready for Bmore Historic – our third annual “unconference” for historic preservation, public history and cultural heritage. If you work at a local archive, volunteer regularly for a historic site or house museum, or work in historic preservation, Bmore Historic is always a great opportunity to network with colleagues from all over the Baltimore region – and we still have a few spots left! Whether you’re coming to Bmore Historic or not, you are all welcome to join us this Friday evening at the St. Mary’s Historic Site for a tour and happy hour following the unconference.
Bmore Historic 2013 Happy Hour at St. Mary’s Historic Site
Friday, October 11, 2013, 4:30pm to 6:30pm
St. Mary’s Spiritual Center & Historic Site
600 North Paca Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
No registration required! Beer and wine available – suggested $5 donation. Limited off-street parking is available in the St. Mary’s Spiritual Center lot and additional on-street parking is available in the area.
Special thanks to Fr. John C. Kemper, S.S. and Heidi Glatfelter for hosting the Bmore Historic Happy Hour. Fr. Kemper will also be leading tours of the St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel: a Seton Hill landmark built from 1806 through 1808 by French architect Maximilian Godefroy for the French Sulpician priests of St. Mary’s Seminary. St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel won a 2013 Preservation Award from Baltimore Heritage this summer for a tremendous restoration by the Associated Sulpicians of the United States, together with Kann Partners, Lewis Contractors, Thomas Moore Studios, and Giorgini Construction. Their nine-month, $1 million project restored to Chapel to its centennial year appearance and surely guarantees its preservation for decades to come.
Come out for the launch of the Baltimore Parks & Open Space Alliance, an informal group and open space advocates supporting the stewardship of Baltimore’s parks, community gardens, urban forests, and other green spaces both across the Baltimore region. The Baltimore Parks Happy Hour is hosted by Baltimore Parks & Open Space Alliance and Baltimore Green Drinks.
Waterstone Bar and Grille has graciously agreed to host the happy hour and will provide happy hour food and drink specials, and 5% of bar proceeds will be donated to the Alliance!
Baltimore Heritage is pleased to support the Archdiocese of Baltimore as it celebrates its 225th anniversary with a pilgrimage faith walk of three historic Catholic sites in Central Baltimore. On the Sunday following the 4th of July from 12:00 pm to 4:30 pm, these landmark churches will open their doors for tours, exhibits, organ concerts, and even appearances by prominent figures in the church’s long history in the city. The afternoon will conclude with a mass by Archbishop Lori at the Baltimore Basilica followed by a reception on the Basilica lawn.