Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Demolition through neglect


As someone who promotes rehabilitation, adaptive re-use and restoration over demolition the constant roar of huge yellow excavators and the sound of building walls and roofs coming crashing down is unsettling. It is the sound that has surrounded my office for weeks now.
Demolition of 414 N. Howard Street (photo: ArchPlan)

Funded by BDC and organized by Baltimore Housing, demolition has become the last chapter of decades of neglect for several structures on Howard Street. First it was the old Academy Hotel (1860) that was demolished because it had become unstable, then most of the Mayfair Theater (see article) and now an unremarkable but still historic building in the 400 block of Howard Street. It, too, had fire damage and water had leaked through the burnt out roof for over a year.

The building at 414 N. Howard Street had been part of a 2014 request for proposals that BDC had issued and to which the Le Mondo theater group with Ric Royer and developer Winstead Rouse had responded. But after the fire the group swapped the building out in favor of an adjacent structure to the south that they purchased from a private owner leaving the damaged structure again without hope and stewardship.

The westside of the 400 block of Howard Street already has a gap with a somewhat incongruous green space. Now it will soon have a second one.

This is even more disappointing in light of the recent wave of investment that finally seems to have reached the long ailing north half of the Westside. The eastside of the 400 block of Howard Street is in the hands of the Washington Baltimore Development Company which plans a conversion into a 300 unit apartment complex with the fronts of the existing buildings maintained and about 14,000 of ground level retail. (Plans were shown to UDARP in June 2015). Enterprise is putting the finishing touches on a multi family complex on Mulberry Street right around the corner and the Time Group erects luxury apartments on Franklin Street.
Nothing is left of the old Academy Hotel but a new structure
is rising  (photo: ArchPlan)

There is little point now in crying about these demolitions that have become unavoidable through decades of neglect. But one can't help thinking that the tax dollars now spent on demolition would have been of much better use for shoring the structures up when they fell into the City's hands and when stabilization would have been relatively easy to do. The old bromide about prevention and cure should guide the new Mayor when she will look at the Westside once again to determine where it should go. Many of the structures have been identified as to be preserved in a legally binding Memorandum of Agreement between the City and Maryland's Trust for Historic Preservation. It isn't too late to shift from a reactive mode and begin stabilizing the buildings that survived a hundred or more years of Baltimore history.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Howard and Franklin in 1915

Howard and Franklin in 2016 (photo: ArchPlan Inc.)
The remnants of the Mayfair stage house (photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

The Mayfair during demolition (photo: ArchPlan Inc.)