Rendering via the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation

Developer Chris Janian has decided to explore saving Martick’s, or at least part of it.

After failing to obtain permission to tear down the former Martick’s Restaurant Francais building to make way for a six-story apartment project, Janian has come back with a compromise proposal to save and restore the front third of the structure at 214 W. Mulberry St., if the city’s preservation commission will allow him to tear down the rear two-thirds.

The developer, who heads Vitruvius Development Company and is part of a group called Park Avenue Partners LLC, had previously sought permission to demolish the entire building so the land beneath it could be added to a larger parcel. Park Avenue Partners wants to construct a six-story, $30 million apartment building with commercial space at the street level.

In previous presentations to Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, Janian testified that he couldn’t find an economically feasible way to preserve the former restaurant building, which dates from before the Civil War, as part of the proposed development. He estimated that it would cost more than $1 million to save the Martick’s building because it has been vacant for a decade and is in poor condition.

Opponents said the building ought to be saved because of its significance as a rare pre-Civil War building, for its association with colorful restaurateur Morris Martick and for the cultural role it played as a magnet for a wide range of people.

Photo by Ed Gunts

The French restaurant, which opened in 1970 and closed in 2008, is well known as one of the first places where Baltimoreans were introduced to French cuisine. But in an earlier incarnation during the 1950s and 1960s, Martick’s was a jazz club that attracted performers such as Billie Holiday and Leonard Bernstein.

On Feb. 12, CHAP voted to table a hearing on the demolition proposal, saying it needed more information before it could take a vote.

Janian’s latest proposal represents a new direction for the developer and seems to be a sign that he is listening to opponents of his earlier proposal, but it doesn’t mean the building is saved yet. CHAP has scheduled a public hearing on the new proposal for 1 p.m. tomorrow at 417 E. Fayette St.

Janian did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His proposal to save the front third of Martick’s was one of six options the developer and his architect showed the panel last month.

According to CHAP planner Stacy Montgomery, Janian decided to seek approval for the latest proposal after participating in a working session with CHAP representatives and others who want to see the building saved.

Montgomery cautioned that the new proposal is contingent on the developer’s ability to secure sufficient funds to complete the work. At this point, she said, the developer has a funding gap and is looking for additional sources of money. At the same time, she said, “I’d like to think he heard that this building is really, really important.”

The developer’s change of direction was spelled out in the city’s agenda for Tuesday’s hearing. CHAP has a say over the building’s fate because the structure is part of the Howard Street Commercial Historic District, and any changes to building exteriors in the district must be approved by the panel.

In January, the staff did not support Janian’s demolition proposal, on which the panel itself took no action.

At that hearing, staff recommended the item be tabled, “and that the applicant return with a plan to retain the historic building and investigate the additional funding sources for the project, or return with a plan to retain some portion of the historic building and more information demonstrating that retaining the entire building is economically infeasible.”

Eric Holcomb, executive director of CHAP, said Monday afternoon that staff do not yet have a final recommendation for the panel to consider in reviewing the partial demolition proposal. But he said he believes the applicant has been responsive to CHAP’s request for more information, and that the preservation panel is working with the developer and not in an adversarial capacity.

“It feels like the panel stood its ground, but is working with the applicant to achieve its goals, too,” he said.

Is Janian’s latest plan enough to get the commission’s approval? The question is similar to a recent hearing at which the commission was asked to approve a plan to save the fronts of three carriage houses on Morton Street and construct a six-story apartment building behind them. The commission voted to reject the proposal, saying the developer wasn’t preserving enough of the 19th-century carriage houses.

The preservation advocacy group Baltimore Heritage has previously opposed plans to raze the Martick’s building.

Baltimore Heritage executive director Johns Hopkins said his group has not taken a position on the latest proposal from Janian, but plans to discuss it at a board meeting tonight.

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Ed Gunts

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