In ‘unsanctioned demolition,’ crews tear down historic St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum in Upton

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The debris left by the demolition of the former St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum building. Photo by Marti Pitrelli.

A pre-Civil War building in Upton that once housed an orphanage and was included in a National Register of Historic Places district was completely knocked down over the last week, despite the city’s attempts to halt demolition over the weekend.

Photos first shared on Monday on social media by Marti Pitrelli, Upton’s community liaison for the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, depicted piles of bricks, concrete and other debris behind a chain link fence. They’re what remained of the St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum at 1411 Division St.

Pitelli, who lives around the corner and tracks building permits for work in her neighborhood as CHAP’s architectural review committee chair for the nearby Marble Hill Historic District, called it an “unsanctioned demolition.”

“I heard a lot of noise, and I looked behind my house and I saw the building coming down,” she said. “It was shocking because I knew there were not permits to demolish the building.”

The Culler Group (doing business as TCG Development, Inc.) chronicled its demolition of the historic property on its own Facebook page, even writing at one point, “We’re bringing this baby down!!! Tear the roof off the MothaSucka!” (That post has since been deleted.)

As first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal’s Melody Simmons, the company did so without a proper permit. Department of Housing and Community Development records indicate TCG Development received a permit in November 2017 to remove exterior walls and fire-damaged sections of the building, though it did not give did them the go-ahead to tear the whole structure down.

One of Pitrelli’s photos shows a bright orange stop work permit issued by the city on Saturday, citing “working without permit” as the reason.

Reached by phone Tuesday, TCG Development principal William Culler said his firm was “subcontracted to do the work” on the building, began working on it last Thursday and received the stop work order on Saturday. He declined to comment further, citing personal illness.

The former St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum building in 2015. Photo by Eli Pousson, via Baltimore Heritage.

Property records indicate a company called HMJ 1411 Division, LLC sold the building in June of 2016 for $866,400. A deed signed for the property lists Richard Benson, of Pompano Beach, Florida, and Jennifer Benson and Richard Benson, Jr. as the sellers.

The company that purchased it, the similarly named 1411 Division Street LLC, has since forfeited its business license and is listed in state business records as “not in good standing.” State documents show the LLC was registered by Michael Chetrit of the Chetrit Organization LLC. The company bears the name of the Chetrit family, whose portfolio includes millions of dollars of real estate in New York.

As for the lost building’s history, 1411 Division Street hasn’t served as an orphanage since 1934, according to local nonprofit Baltimore Heritage. It was converted into the Carver Hall Apartments in 1941, and served as affordable housing for mostly black tenants until only several years ago. Along the way, it weathered two fires, one in 1978 and another in 2015 that destroyed the roof and much of the inside. Pitrelli, who lives just around the corner, said the latter was “devastating.”

Beyond losing a property in a national historic district—and one of what she said is a growing list of buildings recently demolished in the historically black central West Baltimore neighborhood—Pitrelli said neighbors suffered from crews not undertaking sufficient safety measures to protect surrounding streets as they tore down the structure.

“They were just knocking the building down, no fencing,” she said, “just knocking bricks and debris all over the street. There were huge plumes of dust going all over people’s homes or cars.”

Baltimore Heritage executive director Johns Hopkins told Baltimore Fishbowl one of the “saddest parts” about the demolition is that the building “came down without anybody evaluating whether it could have been saved or not” from the damage left by the 2015 fire.

“We know we can’t save every building–and especially buildings that get damaged by fires–but to lose this one that is really so old, and has such deep roots in West Baltimore, without doing the basic homework, that’s especially sad.”

This story has been updated to clarify that a National Register of Historic Places designation does not protect a listed building from private actions, assuming it abides by local building laws.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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