Thomas Building Urban Landscape

The Thomas Building, a survivor from the early 1900s in downtown Baltimore, has changed hands.

The six-story building at 101 E. Baltimore Street has been acquired by the development group that is building a high rise called 1 Light Street on the same block.

For more than three decades, the Thomas Building was owned by McDonald’s Corp. and housed a two-level McDonald’s restaurant. In recent weeks, the McDonald’s signs were stripped from the building’s exterior and the restaurant’s equipment and furnishings were removed from the interior.

“The developer bought it,” said Kim Clark, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., which leads efforts to revitalize downtown. “I’m pretty sure they are going to try to preserve it and incorporate it into the larger development.

The developer is a joint venture of Madison Marquette and Metropolitan Partnership Ltd. That group is building a 28-story tower containing offices, parking and apartments on the block bounded by Baltimore, Light and Redwood Streets and has razed other buildings to make way for it.

Metropolitan also owns the former Maryland National Bank tower at 10 Light Street, which has been turned into apartments. 10 Light was one of the highlights of the Doors Open Baltimore building tour held on Saturday.

Cary Euwer, the chief executive officer of Metropolitan, declined in an email message to discuss his plans for the Thomas Building. The architects for 1 Light Street, URS and AECOM, have presented drawings to the city showing the Thomas Building preserved at the corner of Baltimore and Light streets, with the tower rising around it.

The Thomas building is not protected by city landmark designation, but it is one of the oldest and most ornate buildings in downtown Baltimore to survive from the early 1900s. Other buildings razed to make way for 1 Light Street include the Southern Hotel at 7-11 Light Street, an office building at 5 Light Street, and low rise commercial structures at 105 to 115 E. Baltimore Street.

Constructed right after the Great Fire of 1904 destroyed much of downtown Baltimore, the Thomas Building was the third home of Thomas and Thompson, a pharmacy established in 1872 by John Benjamin Thomas and Albert Thompson, who were seated next to each other while students at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy.

The pharmacists started at Dolphin Street and Druid Hill Avenue and moved to the corner of Baltimore and Light streets in 1892. When their building was destroyed by the 1904 fire, they built the current one. Designed in a French Renaissance style by Baltimore architects William Miller Ellicott and William Wirt Emmart, it is notable for its mansard roof and large bay windows.

Hurt by competition from regional drug store chains, Thomas and Thompson closed its retail operation in 1973 and leased the Baltimore Street space to McDonald’s, which opened a restaurant the same year. McDonald’s bought the building in 1984 for $900,000.

Besides being an architectural survivor, the Thomas Building literally helped people survive the Great Depression.

After the stock market crash of 1929, it was known as the place that always had a bowl of free graham crackers by the soda fountain. For many people seeking jobs in downtown Baltimore, that handout may have been the only sustenance they had that day.

“More than a few people used to keep themselves from passing out by eating those graham crackers,” developer J. Joseph Clarke said in a 1994 interview with The Baltimore Sun. “People really suffered in those years. It was a real treat.”

It was “a gesture of the times,” said John Thomas III, whose family ran the drugstore that gave out the crackers “You could always come in and get a handful.”

Thomas told The Sun that his grandfather put out the crackers as a combination of good will and good business.

“I can still hear my grandfather say, ‘We’ll give them a bowl of free graham crackers, because they’re so dry. Instead of drinking one Coca-Cola, those who can afford to will drink two or three. And those who can’t afford to pay can still get a handful of graham crackers for free. Many a person did just that.”

Madison Park North redevelopment to be discussed

Plans to redevelop the vacant Madison Park North apartments in Reservoir Hill will be discussed during a community meeting today, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, 2405 Linden Avenue.

The development team for the eight-acre parcel at North and Park avenues is headed by David Bramble of MCB Real Estate and MLR Partners. Cho Benn Holback + Associates Architects is the designer.

Madison Park North is the development that Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby and others have called “Murder Mall,” because of the crime there.  The meeting, convened by the Neighborhood Coalition for MPN Redevelopment, is billed as a chance to meet the developers, who say they hope to begin demolition before Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake leaves office in December.

A hotel for McHenry Row

The McHenry Row development off Fort Avenue in South Baltimore has been a success as an office and shopping location. Now it may gain a hotel as well.

Representatives for 28 Walker Development, the property owner, last week presented plans to Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel that showed an eight-story, 119-room hotel and a five-story, 110,000-square-foot office building as part of expansion plans for the 20-acre property. LSC Design of York, Pa., is the architect.

Apartments planned for Boston Street

The Kauffman Electric Co. property at 3400 Boston Street has been proposed as the site of Canton’s newest apartments. Workshop development presented plans to the city’s design review panel last week showing the property redeveloped with an eight-story, 240-unit apartment building with a roof deck, pool, community room and garage.

The developers have a contract to buy the property and the city has agreed to rezone it for commercial development as part of the TransForm process. Jonathan Wehri of LSC Design is the architect.

The site was supposed to be the location of a power station as part of the Red Line rail project cancelled by Gov. Larry Hogan. The developers say they hope to start construction by September 2017 and open within 20 months.

Construction begins on Nelson Kohl apartments

Construction has begun on the Nelson Kohl apartments at 20 E. Lanvale Street, between Charles and St. Paul streets, part of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

The eight-story, $20-million building will contain 103 apartments and a Milk and Honey market. Ernest Valery of SA+A Development is the developer. LSC Design is the architect. Wendell Pierce, an actor from The Wire, said earlier this year that he would be an investor.

LSC Design opening a Baltimore office

With three projects in the Baltimore area (see above), LSC Design is opening a satellite office in the city. Representatives of Baltimore’s Urban Design review panel said last week that they were told about the move.

Founded in 1980 as Land Survey Consultants, the company has grown to include architecture, interior design, civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture, survey management and 3D scanning. Its headquarters is at 320 North George Street in York, Pa.

Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors awards ceremony

The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors will hold its annual Installation of Officers and Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway.

Cityscape 2016

Cityscape 2016, an exhibit featuring “views of the urban landscape” by members of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association, opened last weekend at the Peale Museum, 225 N. Holiday Street.  The paintings will be on display Oct. 29 and 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. both days. A weekday open house has been added on Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

From Maryland to Kentucky

Liz Buxton, former executive director of the Valleys Planning Council in Baltimore County, has left that organization to become executive director of the Bluegrass Conservancy in Lexington, Kentucky.


The Brass Tap at the Fitzgerald has set Dec. 12 and 13 as its grand opening dates. Located at 1205 West Mount Royal Avenue, the gastropub will feature 60 craft beers as well as lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, cocktails and wine.

Aldi, a discount grocer, has set Oct. 27 as the reopening date for its Randallstown store at 8606 Liberty Road. The building has been closed for remodeling since mid-September.

Owners of the Baltimore Eagle nightclub at 2022 N. Charles Street have pushed back their reopening to mid November, citing  “various construction delays.” They had hoped to open before Halloween.

Ed Gunts writes Urban Landscape, a regional roundup of real estate and design news published every Monday.

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

One reply on “Historic Thomas Building changes hands, a hotel for McHenry Row, community meeting on Madison Park North; New apartments for Canton and Station North”

  1. Ed – have you been to The Elephant since we finished the 1.5 year renovation and opened? Would love to show you around again!

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