Photo by Fred Scharmen

After losing two historic stone houses in a surprise demolition last month, residents of Baltimore’s Woodberry community have asked the city to designate their neighborhood a local historic district so that remaining older structures would be better protected from “reckless” demolition.

“I write on behalf of the Woodberry Community Association and with the support from the overall community to request that the Woodberry community be designated as a Baltimore City Historical and Architectural Preservation Historic District,” association president Sheri Higgins wrote in a May 30 letter to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

The request came one week after a developer tore down two 1840s stone millworkers’ houses that had been targeted for preservation as part of a 55-unit apartment complex called Woodberry Station.

The demolition occurred after the developer, Chris Mfume, promised to retain the structures at 3511 and 3523 Clipper Mill Road as part of the proposed project. Mfume has since left the development team, as has the architect, PI.KL Studio.

The dwellings were part of a group of about 40 pre-Civil War structures that were built to provide housing for employees of a nearby mill.

Local preservationists decried the demolition as a major loss for the surrounding community and the city at large. Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, called it “a breach of public trust.”

Higgins noted in her letter to Young that Woodberry has already been designated a national historic district, but that does not give historic buildings the same degree of protection as being named a local historic district. In a city-designated historic district, any changes to the exteriors of buildings must be approved by Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, known also as CHAP.

CHAP tried 12 years ago to designate Woodberry a local historic district, but the effort lacked strong enough support from area residents to move ahead.

Higgins said the new request was prompted by the May 21 demolition of the stone houses and concerns about “the impending risk to historically important structures in the area from reckless demolition.”

She wrote that Woodberry Community Association members approved the request to make Woodberry a local historic district at their annual meeting at the end of May. “The WCA has an active committee in place to assist CHAP with the designation process.”

Eric Holcomb, CHAP’s executive director, notified commissioners about Woodberry’s request at a meeting yesterday. He said CHAP’s staff will make it a high priority to work with the Woodberry community, starting with a survey of residents and property owners to gauge support for the designation.

“We really want to move as quickly as we can, but thoughtfully and carefully,” he said. “We want to get the survey done in the next couple of weeks.”

Woodberry is bounded roughly by Cold Spring Lane to the north, Greenspring Avenue to the west, Druid Hill Park to the south and the Jones Falls waterway on to east. It includes Clipper Mill, where two residential projects are in various stages of planning, as well as Brick Hill, TV Hill and the Woodberry MTA Light Rail stop. Some residents have suggested the city designate Brick Hill a separate CHAP district.

Holcomb said one of the next steps will be to determine boundaries for a city-sanctioned Woodberry historic district. If CHAP finds there is adequate support from the community, he said, it most likely would hold a public hearing on the request in October or November.

Holcomb said the city also has received two requests to grant temporary landmark status to 2216 Druid Hill Avenue, one of several residences in Baltimore where the musician Cab Calloway lived as a boy.

The city-owned building has been targeted for demolition to make way for a public park. Temporary landmark designation would halt any demolition work for a finite period, most likely six months, so the owners and others could explore ways that the building could be preserved, and potentially build a coalition to save it. The requests came from Peter Brooks, a grandson of Cab Calloway, and Steven Lee, a member of the Maryland Commission of African American History and Culture.

Holcomb said CHAP needs more information about the structural condition of the building and other factors before determining whether to issue a temporary designation. A complicating factor, he said, is that 2216 is in the middle of a row of houses that are all targeted for demolition.

Noting no demolition permit has been sought yet, Holcomb said he will ask city housing department officials familiar with the property to come to CHAP’s July meeting to discuss the matter in greater detail. Then, commissioners can decide whether to move ahead with temporary designation.

“We don’t want to put buildings on the landmark list that don’t have a sound path to restoration,” he said.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

One reply on “After surprise demolition, Woodberry residents want their community designated a local historic district”

  1. My great-grandfather, Parkin Scott Kerr was an engineer at the cotton mill, and lived with his family on clipper Ave. I was upset by the demolition and didn’t know any of the houses remained. Is it possible to get a piece of the debris from the homes? Bettye Garner, thank you!

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