Monday, October 10, 2016

Facade-dectomy at the Mayfair

Few Baltimoreans will remember when Howard Street between Franklin and Center Streets was a thriving arts, theater and hotel district. Pictures from that period look so lovely that they are hard to reconcile with the harsh reality of the last fourty years or so which has not been kind to the area. Now the most prominent witness of those better times is coming down. Except the facade, a surgical procedure that preservationists have dubbed facade-dectomy. Not a thing they usually promote.

The Mayfair site has witnessed the changing times since 1870 when a previous structure began its storied life as a bathhouse. in a first drastic change the "Natatorium"became an auditorium, then a vaudeville theater and finally a movie house.

As a theater it must have been quite a place: "beautiful and cozy" the SUN described it once, "painted in rich golds, dramatic reds, and creamy whites all lit by hundreds of lights clustered on crystal chandeliers. The walls inside the theatre were frescoed in Byzantine and Renaissance styles and the private boxes had velvet, olive-colored drapes. The theatre's reception room had luxurious red carpeting, a telephone, and a maid. During intermission, a Hungarian orchestra played in the theatre's palm garden and ice water was served to "ladies" in the audience. The theatre seated 2,000 and had 30 exits, making it easy to evacuate in case of fire". (Megan Elcrat is an architect and principal of 33:Design). Much of that glory was already sacrificed in the conversion to a movie house in 1941.
The Mayfair next to the Stanford and City College (after 1941)

Since 1986 the Mayfair stood vacant. Its canopy announcing the last movie (Lawrence of Arabia) for a long time. 1998 its roof fell in and nobody did anything about it. Proposals for housing inside the old shell came and went nowhere. Now, 18 years later two engineering studies declared the building a hazard because of its 65'-80' tall brick sidewalls stood unbraced and fully exposed after first the northern neighbor (the Stanley Theater, demolished a long time ago) and lately also the southern neighbor (a hotel even older than the Mayfair) had come down for a parking lot and whatever temporary green-space.
In what BDC calls deconstruction for its slow, careful and labor extensive process, the Mayfair is being demolished in its entirety except for its 35' front section and facade. Why the engineers considered the western end of the building with stage and proscenium unstable is not clear, because as is evident now, there the roof trusses are still in place and that end looks certainly as stable as the front.
State of the Mayfair after the roof collapse

While standing in total neglect for 18 years the building with its landmark marquis was looking over huge parking lots to the west , the demise of the old White Coffee Pot restaurant but also the rebirth of the old Kernan Hotel as apartments, the adaptive reuse of 5 N. Howard Street as apartments and most recently the conversion of the the old Hochschild Kahn distribution center into apartments and the Mount Vernon Marketplace. Finally, at the corner of Park and Franklin a modern new luxury apartment building will rise, also developed by the Time Group which did 520 Park.

The first sign of renewal in the area predates the closure of the Mayfair, in which the former Baltimore City College turned into the Chesapeake apartments as one of the very first adaptive re-use projects in Baltimore.
the fire started small (Photo: ArchPlan)
The demolition work is managed and overseen by the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development's and executed by its on-call contractor, K&K Adams. The cost is over a million dollars, probably much more than it would have cost to stabilize the roof 20 years ago.

Kimberly Clark, the BDC's executive vice president, had told the Baltimore SUN earlier this year that BDC had hoped to preserve the entire building. "If it wasn't for the public safety thing, we would have preserved the north and south walls as well,"Clark said. As a result of the findings of two engineering firms an Emergency Condemnation and Demolition Notice had been posted on the building June 15

It isn't clear on what the hope for preservation was based on, since BDC hadn't done anything to protect the Mayfair from demolition by neglect. In fact, the nail in the coffin came from some contractor welding on the canopy of the Mayfair in 2014, causing a fire that initially appeared to be very manageable until it spread to the adjacent also decaying former Stanley hotel building for which BDC had sought to get demolition permits for at least a decade. Before the first fire trucks were fully set up the fire entered the first floor through the plywood panels covering the storefront and spread in no time through the entire building bringing out a dozen or so fire trucks. But firefighters couldn't enter the building and had to fight the fire from the outside and from above. In the end the structure was so destabilized that it had to come down. In a domino effect this then further destabilized the Mayfair.
The fire has spread to the roof

Mayor Schmoke's vision of the Westside, first articulated in the 90s, has come one step closer to reality with the creation of the Bromo Arts District. The Everyman and the Hippodrome are representations of mainstream arts and culture, the Current Gallery and the theater project including the Annex taking shape in the 400 block of North Howard Street as well as a slew of galleries along Franklin Street are the more offbeat manifestations. A new bakery is planned where the White Coffee Pot used to be. Further north at Centre Street the former Planned Parenthood building is currently being converted to offices. But not all is good: H&H Outdoors, a longtime staple and treasure just a block from the Mayfair plans leave next year, frustrated by sewer diversions that wrap around its entry door and slowing business.

A robust new theme for the area has still to emerge and the postcards from 1915 still look way more attractive than what we have today.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

udpdated with the H&H departure reported by the Baltimore SUN at 11.20am

Postcard of  the important corner of Howard and Franklin Streets around 1910
deconstruction of the historic hotel at the corner of Eutaw and Franklin
(photo: ArchPlan)

Baltimore Sun article July 2016
Baltimore Sun, op-ed Aug. 2016
Baltimore Heritage

The bathhouse originally on this site. Natatorium 
Interior of the Mayfair

Current state of the north wall: It will come down (photo ArchPlan)

Proscennium and stage area (current)
(Photo: ArchPlan)

Current state of demolition (photo ArchPlan)

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