Agora adds another Charles Street landmark to its portfolio

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Photo by Ed Gunts

Bill Bonner is saving another one.

After restoring a dozen historic buildings on and around Mount Vernon Place, Bonner’s firm, Agora Inc., plans to renovate a prominent building in Midtown to house part of its growing staff.

Agora representatives will meet with Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) this week to outline plans for the former Hynson, Westcott and Dunning building at 1030 N. Charles St., a large corner property that once housed the company that invented iodine substitute Mercurochrome.

According to preservation planner Caitlin Audette, Agora has acquired the building and is seeking approval to make alterations to the exterior before any employees move in. It’s Agora’s 13th building in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere area.

Plans on file with the city indicate the company wants to install windows on the building’s south-facing wall and reopen a window on the north side. Jim Suttner of Rohrer Studio is the lead architect, Audette said.

Additional plans call for landscaping a parking lot next to the corner building and renovating a smaller structure along Morton Street, on the west side of the property.

Founded in 1978 by Bonner, an ardent preservationist, Agora and its affiliates publish books and newsletters and organize seminars on subjects such as finance, health and travel. The company has locations in London, Paris, Bonn, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Buenos Aires, and says it reaches more than 1 million subscribers.

Jean Hankey, vice president of management and development for Agora, confirmed the company’s involvement but otherwise declined to discuss the project.

Rendering of the planned design by Rohrer Studio, courtesy of CHAP

This week’s CHAP hearing comes three years after Agora bought and renovated part of the former Monumental Life Insurance Company property, a five-story, 1960s-era office building at 1125 N Charles St. That 104,000-square-foot project, estimated to cost $11 million, added hundreds of employees to the surrounding area. Hankey said at the time that Agora had almost 900 employees in Baltimore.

Other Agora properties include the former Marburg mansion at 14 W. Mount Vernon Place; the former Christian Science building at 702 Cathedral St.; the former Episcopal Diocese of Maryland headquarters at 105. W. Monument St.; the former Winans mansion by Stanford White at 1217 St. Paul St.; the six-level parking garage south of the Belvedere Condominiums and the former Girard’s nightclub at 1001 Cathedral St., which now has City Café at its base and offices above.

By renovating the historic buildings within walking distance of one another, Bonner has saved valuable landmarks while turning Mount Vernon and Midtown into a de facto campus for Agora’s staff.

Bonner and his wife, Elizabeth, who live in Paris, have also purchased and renovated the socialite Hilda “Hildy” Hoffberger’s former residence on the East Square of Mount Vernon Place as a home for themselves.

Agora throws a party every December during the annual lighting of the Washington Monument, and the Bonners are active in Mount Vernon-related preservation matters. Elizabeth Bonner has written to CHAP opposing a plan to waive previously established height limits in Mount Vernon to accommodate new development.

Agora’s newest property was originally designed by architect Howard Sill and built in the English Regency style in 1921. It was made to house labs, offices and a drug store for Hynson, Westcott and Dunning, a pharmaceutical company founded in 1889 by pharmacists Henry Hyson and James Westcott and a third partner, Henry Dunning.

The firm conceived the process for producing Mercurochrome after two Hopkins researchers, Ira Remsen and Edward White, came up with the formula.

Since Hynson merged with Becton Dickinson & Co. and moved local operations to Hunt Valley, the building has had several other occupants, including the Trahan, Burden and Charles advertising agency and campaign headquarters for former mayor Catherine Pugh. One of its most recent tenants was the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which used it as temporary offices while the main library on Cathedral Street was being restored.

A development team previously proposed tearing down the Hynson building in 1988 and replacing it with a 10-story, $12 million office structure. CHAP turned down the proposal in a 4-3 vote, drawing criticism from then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who called the move “capricious.”

Renovation of the Hynson, Westcott and Dunning building is one of two major projects planned for the 1000 block of N. Charles Street. The other is Landmark Partners’ planned eight-story office building on the property that now contains the Grand Central nightclub. Landmark is also scheduled to meet with CHAP on Tuesday to present its latest plans.

The public meeting for both projects is set to begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Benton Building, located at 417 E. Fayette St.

Ed Gunts

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


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2 COMMENTS

  1. So glad to hear of so many historic properties being saved in Mount Vernon, When the city decided to change the designation from ‘historic’ to ‘cultural’,I was afraid that a loop hole had been created. I am still very concerned about the block east of the Pratt library that contains the old Martick’s restaurant. Almost ALL of those buildings need to be preserved and the block’s height limits observed. These 2 1/2 story dwellings are as charming as any that you would find in Fell’s Pt. (Plus they represent what is left of Baltimore’s Chinatown. Full disclosure-I don’t want an alley named after my family obliterated either). Thank you Baltimore Fishbowl for continuing to keep us informed!

  2. I am pleased to see further historic preservation by this company. However, I had hoped that their plans would include an infill building in the hideous vacant lot that is now a parking lot. The street facade is interrupted by the demolition of whatever used to be there. I supposed they want to retain the space as parking for their offices. I hope that CHAP wont approve a plan that does not include infill.

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