The vacant building that formerly housed Martick’s Restaurant Francaise will be partially restored but left open to the elements as an outdoor dining space, part of a plan blessed by a nephew of the late restaurateur Morris Martick and approved today by Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
The preservation commission voted 9 to 0 to accept a proposal from the building’s owner to use the outer walls of the former restaurant to enclose an open-air patio that could be used as dining space for a to-be-created restaurant next door.
The vote helps clear the way for the property owner, Park Avenue Partners, to move ahead with construction of a six-story apartment building on the same block as the Martick’s property at 214 W. Mulberry St. Developer Chris Janian said his team is in the process of obtaining building permits for the larger project and wanted to finalize plans for the Martick’s building as well.
“We believe we are keeping the spirit of Morris alive with this proposal, where we can essentially hold outdoor music and really welcome diners back into the space, albeit it in a very different atmosphere,” Janian told the commission. “The point was to recreate and modernize the spirit of what Morris had created within that very special space.”
In May, the commission turned down a similar open-air concept because it called for the pitched roof of the pre-Civil War-era Martick’s building to be removed and replaced with a plant-covered trellis that changed the building’s appearance and left the interior open to the elements.
Janian came to today’s virtual meeting with a modified plan that called for the southern half of the pitched roof to be removed and reconstructed as a solid roof, and for only the north half of the roof to be replaced with a trellis. The latest plan, by Quinn Evans Architects, also calls for windows in the Martick’s building to be replaced in accordance with the city’s preservation standards and for the original dormer window to be recreated.
Janian told the commission that rebuilding the southern half of the roof as a solid surface means that the front of the building will look pretty much the way it always did when seen from Mulberry Street, the angle from which most people will view it.
“From Mulberry Street you can’t really see the back of the roof,” he told the commission. “There really isn’t going to be any significant change, visually, from what the commission had approved” in a previous meeting.
Janian has explained that the development team would like to keep the building open to the elements because if it encloses the space, that would increase restoration costs by triggering building code requirements that call for adding a sprinkler system, new wiring, new plumbing and other improvements.
Without a full solid roof, he said, the project would be considered outdoor space and the team wouldn’t be required to spend as much money to restore the exterior of the building, which CHAP has deemed a contributing structure in the Howard Street Commercial Historic District.
The latest plan calls for the solid portion of the replacement roof to be made with non-combustible materials, so the building won’t need a sprinkler system to meet building codes, he explained.
He told the commission in May that the area inside the shell could become an outdoor patio with tables and chairs for an adjacent restaurant that would be created on the first level of the apartment building.
Janian said the cost difference between the open-air concept and a more conventional restoration is roughly $500,000–about $300,000 for the open-air approach versus $800,000 for the more conventional approach that would create 800 square feet of space on two levels.
He noted that carrying out the open-air plan initially would not preclude enclosing the building with a conventional roof at a later date, if a user emerged. But “in this economic climate, to raise $800,000 essentially for a concept that is not going to make any money, I would say is completely infeasible,” he said.
Janian also read a letter from Larry Martick, a nephew of restaurateur Morris Martick, who supported the open-air patio plan. In the letter, Larry Martick described himself as “the last living Martick that grew up in Baltimore: and said he was a former busboy and waiter at the restaurant when his uncle owned it.
“Martick’s Restaurant Francaise provided a memorable dining experience for all those who ate there for many years,” the letter said. “My uncle, who was a very eccentric character, employed a variety of wonderful, artistic and colorful people who contributed to the ambiance of the dining experience at Martick’s. It would be wonderful to have patrons dine and gather in the space again… I believe the patio concept would be a welcome addition to the city that many will be able to enjoy.”
CHAP planner Stacy Montgomery said the staff recommended disapproval of the proposal because it doesn’t meet the city’s guidelines for preservation. She said the city’s guidelines never anticipated a request to remove the roof of a historic building and not replace it.
Johns Hopkins, director of Baltimore Heritage, said the staff recommendation is consistent with the commission’s guidelines. But he encouraged the commission to overrule the staff recommendation in this case and approve the open-air concept.
Hopkins said his organization supports the proposal because the majority of the work proposed by the developer does satisfy the city’s guidelines and because the trellis portion of the roof won’’t be visible to most people passing by.
“We think it would be responsible for [the commission] to use its discretion in this instance” and approve the project, Hopkins said.
The building pre-dates the Civil War and is considered historically significant because of its association with the restaurant, which opened in 1970 and closed in 2008. Martick’s Restaurant Francaise was one of the first places where Baltimoreans were introduced to French cuisine, and it was a hub for creative types.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the building was home to a jazz club that attracted performers such as Billie Holiday and Leonard Bernstein.
Prior to that, during the Prohibition era, it reportedly housed a speakeasy.