Cool Rents: Chesapeake Commons

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Perhaps you’ve heard? Renting is the new buying. Welcome to Cool Rents where we walk you through standout rentals in the Baltimore real estate market.

Name: Chesapeake Commons

Cross Streets: North Eutaw and George Streets

Neighborhood: Sometimes Market Center, sometimes Seton Hill, sometimes Mount Vernon (mostly Seton Hill but v. close to Mt. Vernon)

Year Built: 1899 and repurposed as apartments in the early ’80s

Price: With dozens of individual floor plans, there is quite a range, but to give some idea; a one bedroom (888 sq. ft.) is $1350 and a two bedroom (1,486 sq. ft.) is $1,895

Just the facts: Pet-friendly, but a charge of $15 to $45 a month depending on the pet’s size, washer and dryer in all units, free hi-speed internet, a gated and reserved parking space runs $90 a month.

The story: The Chesapeake Commons building was originally built in 1899 as one of the first public high schools in the country. The building was designed by Baldwin and Pennington, who were Baltimore’s premier architects at the time. Some of the firms other notable projects included the Maryland Club, the Fidelity Building, the Mount Royal Station, the Camden Station, and part of the Pier Four Power Plant. The student population outgrew the building by the 1920s, but it stayed in use, housing educational institutions, until it was abandoned in 1978. A few years later, the structure was gutted by a devastating fire. The once beautiful building stood charred and dilapidating for two years until a development company saw its potential and rehabilitated it to the 98-unit apartment building that it is today.

What’s that building like? Well, it’s quirky, as in “Baltimore quirky,” which, as we all know, is some of the quirkiest quirk out there. But it’s also undeniably cool and appealing, too. Let me explain.

Chesapeake Commons has an unremarkable lobby with a lovely receptionist who greets with a warm smile. The wide hallways are outfitted with the expected ho-hum wall sconces and a mix of city apartment aromas. Quirky. Yet the same hallways are lined with an array of framed vintage postcards and photographs of Baltimore, all hung in that charming independent-coffee- shop-with-art-for-sale way.  Interesting, salvaged architectural pieces from the original building, including newel posts and benches, also adorn the walls. It’s genuine and such a welcome departure from the “Home Goods” art that decorate so many apartment buildings today. Cool and appealing.

The units themselves are a surprise in their wonderful drama. The apartments I viewed have soaring ceilings, vast open space, huge windows, lofts galore and tons of natural light. One of the most appealing units I toured has a bank of windows where the wall meets 42 ft. ceilings (yes, you read that right, 42 feet)! The eccentric layouts include a multitude of exposed angles, all covered in masses of white drywall. It’s all very ’80s. Ubiquitous tan “apartment carpet,” utilitarian kitchen cabinets and bathrooms look perfectly fine, but add no interest. Still, I can understand how someone with a creative eye (artists must love these units) wouldn’t care about plain vanilla kitchens and baths: The space packs so much visual impact in the living areas it would be appealing to live here for that fact alone.

The “lifestyle perks” at Chesapeake Commons include an outdoor courtyard, an entertainment/activity room and an exercise room. I got to see all of these amenities during my visit and although sufficient, none were extraordinary. But I don’t think swank and polish is the point of living here. It’s about living outside the box, foregoing the swish and embracing the unique and the dramatic. I only spied a half dozen residents on my visit but they all looked like artistic individualists. If you are similarly inclined you will like meeting them in the courtyard, knowing Chesapeake Commons suits you just fine.

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