Friday, July 31, 2015

Should the Baltimore Jail be preserved? The building, not the institution!

In my book fewer jails and fewer inmates are a good thing, on this I am with President Obama and if need be, even Governor Hogan. But the architect in me asks immediately: What is going to happen with those castle like 150 year old granite buildings? What with the 27 acres of space?
Baltimore Detention Center complex

Hogan, all in clean-up mode already mentioned tear down. But would that be a good solution? Wouldn't it be a continuation of the typical knee-jerk reaction to punish the walls for what happened inside them?
The castle like granite structure as seen from Eager Street

Luckily the SUN just provided a little history of the jail and gives the date of construction as 1859, the year the gold rush began at Pike's Peak in Colorado. I mention this because it provides a standard for Baltimore's history compared to, say, Denver's.

After the construction of the elevated JFX and the following rapid decline of everything east of it few ventured onto East Eager Street and the area surrounding the jail which the SUN describes as Gothic Revival.

The New Yorker in an article about the Baltimore Jail and it being run by the Black Guerilla Family gang reported this:
The Baltimore detention center is the oldest continuously operating penal facility in the country. The Maryland legislature authorized the construction of a penitentiary in East Baltimore in 1804, and the first inmates arrived seven years later. In the eighteen-nineties, the state ordered a significant expansion of the complex, including the erection of a large, fortresslike central administrative tower, constructed in a neo-Romanesque style and made out of Port Deposit granite. More than a hundred years later, the tower, now covered with decades of soot, remains a Baltimore landmark of sorts, like the nearby Bromo-Seltzer tower. 
An interview from 1930 (Sun files)
Well, yes, it is a landmark and it should be treated as such. What should come down is not the old part of  the 27 acre complex but the JFX. The vast area between Madison and Eager and Greenmount Avenue and the Fallsway should be carefully planned in a manner that it nits east Baltimore to Mount Vernon again.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Clarification: Only a part of the 27 acre compound is affected by the closing of the State run men penitentiary. There is also a women prison and the city Central Booking facility not affected by the Governor's action.

Jefferson, MO Prison Reuse:
Eastern State Penitantiary Philly attraction

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