Taking a page out of the Baltimore City government’s book, the nonprofit Maryland Historical Society is preparing to lease three properties it owns in order to help fund its operations.
The properties are all part of the society’s Mt. Vernon “history campus,” which occupies a full city block bounded by Park Avenue and Centre, Howard and Monument streets. The properties are also part of the city’s Mount Vernon historic district, which means any exterior changes must be approved by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
According to commercial real estate news site Bisnow, the historical society’s board plans to seek bids this spring from groups that might want to lease three buildings on its campus. The buildings up for lease include:
- The former Greyhound bus station at Howard and Centre streets, an Art Moderne structure that dates from 1942. After the bus station relocated in 1982, the building was renovated for office use and at one point housed the offices of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The historical society acquired it in 1999 as a donation from Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse and used it to house its administrative offices, freeing up space elsewhere on campus. The building was later used as a filming site for “VEEP” on HBO, but the show no longer uses Maryland as its base of filming. The society lost a source of revenue when the show stopped filming there.
- The Enoch Pratt House at 201 W. Monument Street, an 1844 mansion that served as the residence of the wealthy merchant who donated funds to start the city’s Enoch Pratt Free Library system. Pratt also was a benefactor of the Sheppard Pratt Hospital and the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. He died in 1896 without any children, and his wife lived in the house until her death in 1911. The house was donated to the historical society in 1919 for use as its headquarters.
- A two-story brick building at Monument and Howard streets, near the Mount Vernon Cultural Center light rail stop. The building is the most utilitarian of the three and has been vacant and boarded up for decades.
Established in 1844 to collect, preserve and exhibit objects and materials that embody Maryland history, the historical society calls itself the state’s oldest continuously operating cultural institution. One of its treasures is the original manuscript of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The society increased its holdings significantly in the late 1990s by taking over the collection of the former Baltimore City Life Museums. It later raised funds to open a zinc-clad exhibition center that reoriented the society’s main entrance from Monument Street to Park Avenue.
The society also has exhibit space in the former Greyhound bus garage at Centre Street and Park Avenue and the 1968 Thomas and Hugg Building on Monument Street. Those buildings are not among the properties that are being offered for lease.
In recent years, the society has struggled financially. Like many cultural attractions in Baltimore, it saw attendance drop after the riots following the in-custody death of West Baltimore resident Freddie Gray in the spring of 2015. The area around the historical society has improved in recent years, with residential projects such as 520 Park Avenue and its food hall component, the Mount Vernon Marketplace and a new dog park across Howard Street.
A man who answered the phone at the historical society yesterday confirmed that the organization is planning to seek bids for the three properties. He referred other questions to the society’s chief financial officer, Dennis Elder, who did not return phone calls. Mark Letzer, the society’s executive director, also did not respond to a request for more information.
In seeking proposals for its surplus buildings, the historical society is following the example of Baltimore City, which regularly seeks proposals for city-owned buildings on the west side of downtown and elsewhere. The Baltimore Development Corporation is presently seeking bids for two properties near the historical society’s campus: the former Franklin Delphey Hotel site at 300 W. Franklin Street and the former Mayfair Theatre property at 506 N. Howard Street.