The Wyman Park Building. Photo by Ed Gunts.

The former Baltimore Marine Hospital on Wyman Park Drive, targeted for demolition as recently as 2008, will instead be renovated for academic use by the Johns Hopkins University.

Representatives from Hopkins, which owns the property, outlined their plans for it during a recent meeting with members of the Greater Remington Improvement Association and other residents of the surrounding area.

They explained that an earlier master plan for Hopkins’ Homewood campus called for demolishing and replacing the seven-story building, which was the second largest marine hospital in the country when it opened in 1934, but now they want to upgrade it to provide much-needed space for Hopkins faculty and programs.

“Back in 2008, the thinking was that the Marine Hospital would be demolished and replaced with a larger building” containing about 300,000 square feet of space and designed for use by the health system, said Lee Coyle, Hopkins’ director of planning and architecture.

“That’s not what we expect to do today. We have been evaluating the building and the decision was made to keep it and clean it up from the inside out and turn it into a highly functioning building” for academic uses.

The former hospital contains 230,000 square feet of space, about as much as many downtown office buildings have. That makes it one of the largest on the Homewood campus.

Constructed by the federal government during the Great Depression, the hospital has been a federal facility for much of its history. When it opened with 290 beds, it was part of the Marine Hospital system, established by Congress to provide care for “sick and disabled seamen.”

When the government closed the Public Health Service hospitals in the 1980s, the one on Wyman Park Drive became a private institution, treating military dependents and retirees as well as others from the community.

The initial operator, a group called the Wyman Park Health System, merged in 1987 with Hopkins, which was looking to expand and made it part of its health system. The merger was instrumental in the establishment of Hopkins’ primary care organization, the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, which focuses on outpatient care and refers patients to Hopkins and other hospitals for inpatient and specialty care.

In recent years, according to a university publication, the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians have provided outpatient medical services on the building’s lower levels, while Hopkins has had academic and administrative offices on the upper levels.

Coyle and Bob McLean, Hopkins’ vice president for facilities and real estate, said one likely use is to provide offices for faculty members in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering. McLean said he cannot provide a budget for the renovation work but it probably will be carried out in phases, so the entire building doesn’t have to be closed all at once. According to a sign on the front of the building, some asbestos removal work took place last fall.

The renovation of the old hospital, now called the Wyman Park Building, is one of two major projects that Hopkins is planning on the west side of Wyman Park Drive across from Mason Hall, home of the undergraduate admissions office.

Hopkins officials announced in December they have chosen a parking lot next to the Wyman Park Building to be the site of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins, an interdisciplinary “academic and public forum” that will be funded with a $150 million gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The parking lot is part of the original hospital grounds.

According to Hopkins, the institute will be dedicated to “strengthening democracy by improving civic engagement and civil discourse worldwide” and “developing and testing new ways to support the open exchange of ideas.” The gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation provides funds to create the institute and assemble a faculty as well as build a home for it.

Hopkins selected a world-renowned architect, 81-year-old Renzo Piano of Genoa, Italy, to be the lead designer of the Agora Institute, and Piano visited the campus last fall to meet with campus leaders and help select a site.

Piano’s past projects include the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Shard skyscraper in London, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens and, with Richard Rogers, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore is the architect of record for the Hopkins project.

Besides classrooms and offices, the building will have space for a wide range of public events, including an annual conference bringing together “representatives of different viewpoints to examine contested public policy issues.” There will be lectures, symposiums, dinners and performances.

Coyle and Elizabeth Smyth, advisor to Hopkins president Ron Daniels, said the Agora building will have between 35,000 and 65,000 square feet of space, and the target completion date is 2022. Coyle said it’s too soon to say how tall it will be, but the height limit is about 65 feet. McLean said Hopkins agrees to go through the city’s design review process.

After merging with the hospital in the 1980s, Hopkins administrators asked the city to change zoning for the property and create a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, to allow construction of new buildings that would support the health system-related uses they envisioned at that time.

The PUD approved by the mayor and Baltimore City Council, called the Wyman Park Medical Center Joint Use Facility PUD, allowed more than 100,000 square feet of new construction, the retention or replacement of the hospital and above-ground parking for hundreds of cars.

Last fall, Hopkins asked the city council to repeal the 1987 PUD, so the underlying zoning for the property would be consistent with the uses campus planners now envision for it. If the PUD is repealed, planners reasoned, the zoning reverts to an “educational campus” zoning category, EC-2, that allows for the Agora project and retention of the Wyman Park Building.

Coyle said Hopkins has no intention of following a 2008 master plan, which calls for half a dozen new buildings, including a six-story parking garage for 550 cars across from rowhouses on Remington Avenue.

“It is not advantageous to an academic process,” he said of the garage. “It is not appropriate to build a six-story building across from the houses on Remington Avenue.”

A council bill to repeal the PUD was introduced in December. Yesterday, Baltimore’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to repeal the PUD, after hearing a staff report from city planner Christina Hartsfield and testimony in support of the bill from Jed Weeks of the Greater Remington Improvement Association and Stephanie Murdock from the office of Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. No one spoke against the legislation.

With the Planning Commission’s endorsement, the full council is expected to take up the bill later this winter, clearing the way for both the Agora Institute and Wyman Park Building renovation projects to move ahead.

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Ed Gunts

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

2 replies on “Former Baltimore Marine Hospital, once targeted for demolition, will now be renovated by Hopkins”

  1. I would love to see Baltimore gained a building by Renzo Piano and we better hurry up because he’s not getting any younger. Not at this site at the expense of this historic building.
    Hopkins, I guess already destroyed three beautiful buildings with black header bricks, beautiful water tables, and marble bases and lintels. Tore them down about 10 years ago for parking lots. Always quite dismayed to see that they were exellent examples of colonial architecture that perched majestically on the top of the hill.

  2. I was there in July, 1961 and the personnel were all U.S. Navy, the registered nurses and Navy Physicians ; the President of the hospital was Commander Sullivan. I was there for thirty days; all of the staff were competent and efficient. The food was good.

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