Friday, April 26, 2019

The Baltimore Jail - Historic but to be demolished anyway

One would think that solid, 120 year old  buildings constructed from solid granite should stand a chance to be preserved, especially if they are recognizable Baltimore City landmarks, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and undisputed historically "contributing" structures. Historic preservation can fine even a mayor $500 a day for having the wrong shingles on a house. The Maryland General Assembly didn't give the State any funds to replace the demolished structures. But nope, the jail is on course to go the way of the News American, the Redwood Towers, the Mechanic Theater and the McKeldin Fountain. There isn't even a stipulation to save the granite.
Entry to the Tower  (Photo Philipsen)

The buildings in question are owned by the State of Maryland.  By necessity the State had to run through the Section 106 process that is known from national environmental law and designed to protect historic or environmental assets. The State adopted the same provisions even where no federal funds are used. The Maryland Historical Trust Act’s “Section 106” sets out procedures that require engaging community members and other interested parties in a process that allows the parties to understand a state agency’s proposal and to evaluate alternatives and mitigation where historic buildings could be impacted or demolished. At least that is the idea.

In question here is the Maryland Penitentiary complex in central Baltimore City. It is a 7.4-acre area of correctional buildings constructed between 1811 and 1995. Or as the Maryland Historic Trust "eligibility form" describes it:
The Maryland Penitentiary complex is significant as a largely intact collection of architecturally distinctive prison structures dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and is eligible for listing under National Register
Rendering of the Jail in 1900
Warden John F. Weyler, appointed in 1888, undertook an ambitious construction program at the penitentiary, drawing on the latest ideas in prison design. Weyler commissioned architect Jackson C. Gott to design the Administration Building and O’Brien House, West Wing, and Boiler House. Completed in 1899, these buildings demonstrate a uniform Romanesque Revival aesthetic rendered in local Maryland granite. The new penitentiary buildings were state of the art facilities at the time of their construction. Soon after their completion, two additional buildings were constructed. Building A, designed by Baltimore architect Hugh S. Magruder, was constructed in 1902 to serve as a brush factory. C-Block, built in 1907 as a new women’s cell block, was designed by architect Charles M. Anderson of Baltimore. 

Prison complex overview.  All tan structures are contributing
Architect Jackson C. Gott designed the MTC West Wing, completed in 1899, as a cell-block wing connected to the Administration Building. Originally, the overall design of the Penitentiary included a south wing as well, but it was demolished for the construction of D-Block (Building 009), in 1995. The Romanesque Revival West Wing features characteristic elements such as rough-faced stone masonry, paired windows, and towers. The wing extends along E. Eager Street, and measures approximately 350 feet in length by fifty-five feet in width. The linear-plan wing exhibits a pitched standing-seam metal roof, and terminates in a square-plan, pyramidal-roofed “keep” with corner towers. Structurally, the wing consists of an outer shell of coursed Port Deposit granite block and an interior free-standing, five-tier, steel cell block on a concrete foundation and sub-basement. The ground story is composed of larger granite blocks, while the upper portion of the exterior is constructed of smaller blocks. The sides and top of the interior cell block do not touch the outer shell, effectively creating a prison within a prison, as the building was frequently described historically.

Warden House (The Castle, building 102 on map)
It is important to note, that although one could reasonably argue for separating the historic and architectural value of the buildings from correctional practices and the need for reform for more social justice and equity.

The State of Maryland and its Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) in there argument fr demolition are playing these two aspects against each other when they try to substantiate why so many buildings in the complex need to be demolished. But historically, the buildings and justice reform have always been intertwined even if that may not be obvious today. Again quoting from the MHT documentation:
Prior to the American Revolution, Colonial prisons were largely associated with severe corporal punishment and public executions. By the late eighteenth century, reformers, such as John Howard of Great Britain, began to articulate a more progressive approach to incarceration. [...] 
Following grand jury investigations into conditions at the penitentiary, and Weyler’s persistence, the state appropriated $250,000 in 1890 for the construction of a new penitentiary. The appropriation was distributed in increments of $50,000 per year, and in 1894 the Jail Board had sufficient funds to acquire the property situated between Eager and Truxton Streets, to the north of the existing complex, and break ground on the new buildings.14
Weyler planned the layout of the complex. He studied the latest ideas in prison design, with an eye towards convenience, sanitation, security, and extensibility. In 1893, Weyler and architect Jackson C. Gott visited the state penitentiary at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania and the reformatory at Elmira, New York. Weyler was impressed with the prison at Allegheny City, particularly its ventilation and lighting systems and the arrangement of its workshops. In addition, Weyler took note of the emphasis placed on vocational and educational programs at Elmira, intended to reform the incarcerated and ease their transition back into society.
Building 109 on map with tower (Photo: Philipsen)
Now, there is no doubt that prisons in the United States today have little to do with "correction" and "rehabilitation" and that the historic City Jail does not comply with modern standards of justice. Anyone who has toured the D Block (with the steel cell block inside the building) will come away with the depressing feeling that these accommodations were less human than lion cages. In fact, the correctional system has been under a consent decree for a long time.

The question, therefore, is, how a modern jail can either coexist with historic preservation or be exercised in a new location. In violation of the spirit of Section 106 which seeks to minimize adverse impacts, the demolition plans by the Division of Corrections did NOT consider various options with a range of impact mitigation. In fact, the demolition is sought BEFORE any design for a new facility has been developed because no funds for design or construction of a new facility have been appropriated. The assumption that all buildings suggested for demolition need to go to allow a new facility to be constructed is based on nothing but a bubble diagram and a rough estimate of the needed program space. Not considered are options such as maintaining the front wall of the D block as a perimeter security wall that a new facility would still need. Not considered either is a hopefully shrinking prison population.

The 106 process which included three meetings with "consulting parties" representing the preservation interest brought  a small success in that a few building elements were removed from phase 1 demolition. This is documented in a Memorandum with MHT. It states:
DPSCS shall retain and preserve the Maryland Penitentiary’s Building 005/Administration Tower, and the Building 006/O’Brien House attached to the front of Building 005/Administration Tower, as well as seventy-two (72) feet length of the Maryland Penitentiary’s Building 109/West Wing to include the first set of turrets on the North and South side and two full arched windows, as shown in Exhibit D. [...]  
DPSCS has [also] removed the Building 102/Castle Building/Warden’s House at 300 East Madison Street from the State of Maryland’s demolition plan and the construction base bid package for the current Undertaking. Once the Therapeutic Treatment Center project is funded, DPSCS shall develop and consider alternatives for the treatment of the Building 102/Castle Building/Warden’s House. Such alternatives may include retention and rehabilitation, salvage, demolition, relocation, or other measures.
Demolition compromised (blue remains)
This "compromise" is better than the initially sought full demolition, but it ignores much of the findings of the State's own historic agency, namely the value of assembly as a whole. The  MHT eligibility document is quite clear about the value of the ensemble in its summary :
Considered as a whole, the Maryland Penitentiary complex maintains sufficient integrity of Location, Design, Setting, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling, and Association needed to convey significance within the context of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century incarceration and prison design. The six contributing structures all retain important character-defining exterior features. Integrity of Design, Materials, and Workmanship are retained through the presence of original stone masonry, arched window forms, towers and crenellation of rooflines, and elements, such as clustered columns, foliate capitals, and ornate moldings, that are specifically associated with the Romanesque Revival style and the architecture of the late Victorian period. Integrity of Design is further enhanced by the retention of much of the basic layout of the complex and the historic spatial relationships between the buildings.
The photo illustrates the massive scale of the construction
(Photo Philipsen)
Note that in the MOU DPSCS still maintains the option to demolish the landmarked Warden House ("Castle") in the future.

So, how is it possible that the Correctional folks can plow forward with demolition of history in spite of  all those findings? The answer is that local laws mean nothing to the State. Local historic district rules and local landmarks can safely be ignored by the State. National Register District eligibility has no teeth at all, it only allows for benefits such as historic tax credits. Thus, MHT had no choice but to agree "that the fulfillment of the terms of this MOA will satisfy the responsibilities of any Maryland state agency under the requirements of the Maryland Historical Trust Act of 1985".

The "consulting parties" included AIA Baltimore, Preservation Maryland, Baltimore Heritage and representatives from CHAP. All tell me that there is no legal recourse against what the State plans to do.

It is sad to see structures that stood for over a century disappear only because the current administration wants to see them go for the possible day when money for a new jail may be available. Those structures could stand another 100 years until Baltimore City has sorted itself out, the elevated JFX has been removed, the Jones Falls been day-lit again and the monumental jail structures could be part of a farmers market, a climbing gym or a maker space or something we just haven't imagined yet.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

No comments:

Post a Comment