Drawing via the Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Baltimoreans will still be able to see and visit a portion of Martick’s Restaurant Francais under a partial-restoration plan approved today by Baltimore’s preservation commission.

The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) voted 9 to 0 to approve a plan that calls for the front third of the former restaurant at 214 W. Mulberry St., to be preserved and restored and for the rear two thirds to be torn down.
Under the plan, the pre-Civil War era building would become part of a larger development planned for the rest of the block, a six-story, $30 million apartment building with commercial space at street level.

Developer Chris Janian, of Vitruvius Development Co. and Park Avenue Partners LLC, originally sought permission to tear down the entire restaurant building and use the land underneath as part of the site for the apartment building.

When CHAP did not agree to that plan, Janian said he would be willing to explore the idea of retaining the front third of the restaurant building if he could tear down the rest.

Janian said the plan is contingent on his team’s ability to secure additional funds–at least $300,000, according to city officials–to save the front of the Martick’s building and make it part of the larger development. He said he will identify and work with a nonprofit partner to help raise funds and determine an appropriate use for the building, vacant since the restaurant closed in 2008.

“We’re excited about it,” he said after the vote. “Now we have to go raise the money.”

CHAP’s vote came after Johns Hopkins, the head of the Baltimore Heritage preservation advocacy group, said his organization supports the plan.

“It’s not the ideal outcome,” he told the commission. “But we can live with it.”

“We may never get Martick’s back, but we might be able to get… the core memory back,” he said.

In January, the preservation commission determined that the Martick’s building was worth trying to save because of its age, its association with restaurateur Morris Martick and its significance as a cultural hub for Baltimore’s arts community. The building housed a French restaurant from 1970 to 2008 and was one of the first places where Baltimoreans were introduced to French cuisine, and before that it was a popular jazz club.

Stacy Montgomery, a planner for the preservation commission, said the idea of pursing a partial restoration approach followed a working session in February that included the developer and preservationists who wanted to save as much of the Martick’s building as possible.

She said the staff recommended approval of the partial restoration concept because it concluded demolition of the rear two-thirds “would be without detriment to the public welfare,” and that not allowing partial demolition would result in a “substantial hardship” to the developer.

She said the staff would like the developer to return with “a more fully developed design that thoughtfully addresses the transitions between the historic building and the new construction so the height, scale and massing of the new construction does not overwhelm the historic building.”

The concept was not supported by the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association’s architectural review committee, whose members sent a message to CHAP saying they believed the entire building should be preserved.

The plan also drew criticism from a former Martick’s employee, Bridget Benzing, who asked the developer to keep the entire building. Benzing said she was speaking on behalf of more than 700 people who signed a petition to preserve the structure.

“When I look at the photo [of the proposed development], I feel like Martick’s is being swallowed by a much larger building. I’m nervous,” she told the commission. “We know it probably won’t go back to a restaurant, but it could go back to a place where the stories are conveyed… We would like to see the whole building preserved.”

Janian said the drawing shown to the panel is a “massing study” and not a rendering of the proposed building. He said his designers, Quinn Evans Architects, are still working on incorporating the Martick’s building into the new building design.

Now that his team has CHAP’s endorsement of a design direction, Janian said he is eager to flesh out plans for the portion of Martick’s that will be saved.

“We’re really excited about delivering something impactful in the Martick’s space, and we would love community input and ideas for what that could be.”

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