Hugh Hardy, via H3 Hardy Collaboration

An unsung hero of Baltimore architecture and preservation has saved his last landmark.

Hugh Hardy, a New York-based architect, died earlier this month at age 84.

Hardy was best known for restoring old theaters in New York City, including Radio City Music Hall, the New Amsterdam, the New Victory and the Majestic.

Over a career that spanned six decades, he worked on most of the theaters in the city, bringing many back to life. He was the consummate showman – witty, upbeat, theatrical himself. The New York Times said he was “the kind of architect who could use ‘pizazz’ in a sentence without irony.” His enthusiasm was infectious.

But Hardy left his mark on Baltimore, too.

He was the architect behind the 2004 restoration of the 2,286-seat Hippodrome Theater and other historic structures that make up the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center on Eutaw Street in Baltimore. His name can be found on a plaque on the south side of the lobby.

Photo courtesy of the Hippodrome Theatre

Hardy worked on the $63 million project under an unconventional arrangement that said much about how he approached his work.

As important as the Hippodrome restoration was to Baltimore, the Maryland Stadium Authority (the public agency that led the project) wasn’t especially eager to pay top dollar for a New York architect, no matter how big a name.

But Hardy, then in his late 60s, was interested in saving the theater, so he came to an agreement with the state. He would work on the project with a local firm backing him up, doing much of the day-to-day work. He would come to Baltimore on the train from time to time to check on construction progress and offer guidance. He charged by the hour for his time, rather than bringing his entire firm into it.

The partnering firm, Murphy & Dittenhafer, was his eyes and ears when he was not there. He had worked with them before and had a good relationship with its principals. (This was the sort of procurement that the stadium authority could pull off, when other agencies can’t).

With Hardy’s guidance, the design team came up with a creative way to connect a series of historic buildings along Eutaw Street to become one performing center, turning narrow alleys between the buildings into indoor connectors. Whereas the 1914 Hippodrome never had sufficient room for a sizable lobby and box office, Hardy recommended using space in the adjacent buildings. When a storm blew down the corner building, he designed a replacement structure that was sympathetic to the ensemble. He recommended a new canopy to mark the front of the Hippodrome. He advocated for the sort of full-blown restoration that went over so well with his Times Square projects.

Although many people refer to the finished project as the Hippodrome, two other historic buildings were restored as part of the France-Merrick center: the Eutaw Savings Bank and Western National Bank. Each was given mechanical upgrades to function in the 21st century, but their exteriors still look like they did a century ago.

The entire project occupies much of a city block, and that made it more of an anchor for the west side of downtown than if only the Hippodrome had been restored. It was one of the best investments the state made in the west side, along with Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium. It is doubtful that the Parkway Theater on North Avenue would be undergoing restorations right now without the precedent set by the Hippodrome.

While the renovation of the Hippodrome led to the closure of the Morris A. Mechanic Theater in Charles Center, Hardy was not in favor of demolition. He was one of a series of nationally prominent architects who wrote to Baltimore’s preservation commission, arguing the Mechanic be designated a landmark and protected from demolition. The city didn’t follow their advice, and now the property is an unsightly hole in the ground.

Hugh Hardy, via H3 Hardy Collaboration

Hardy moved on to other projects, starting a new design firm six months after the Hippodrome reopened and continuing to work into his late 70s and 80s.

His death was particularly ironic. According to the Times, he fell on March 15 while getting out of a taxi on Eighth Avenue, across from the Joyce Theater, one of the theaters he worked on. He and his wife went to dinner and then to a dance performance at the Joyce. He lost consciousness at the theater and was taken to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, where he died two days later. The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage.

According to Hardy’s office, there was no funeral. On March 22, theaters around the country dimmed the lights on their marquees for one minute in Hardy’s honor. The Hippodrome did not have a performance that night, so its operators turned the marquee lights on, rather than off.

Hardy often said he wanted to come back to Baltimore and see how the Hippodrome was holding up, the way he checked on his New York theaters. As far as I can tell, he never got the chance. But the restored Hippodrome has served the city well, thanks largely to the guidance he provided on those train trips down to Baltimore.

The building that housed Baynesville Electronics on Joppa Road, photo via Pinterest

Wawa and Sonic Come to East Joppa Road

Who knew East Joppa Road would be such a hotbed of development activity?

When Ukazoo Books decided to move from Dulaney Valley Road to a building near Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road, plans were underway for a Starbucks coffee shop to replace the Bel-Loc Diner, which closed yesterday.

Since then, Baynesville Electronics has closed its store at 1631 E. Joppa Road after six decades, and the former Raytheon plant has been torn down in the 1300 block.

The Towson Times reported recently that a Wawa store will be part of the mixed-use Loch Raven Commons complex built to replace Raytheon, and Sonic plans to open an eatery on the Baynesville Electronics property. That’s more change in four months than that one-mile stretch of Joppa Road has seen in a decade.

$900,000 Budgeted to Fight the State Center Development

Gov. Larry Hogan has budgeted $900,000 in his supplemental budget for fiscal 2018 to provide legal fees to support the state’s fight to end ties with developers of the $1.5 billion State Center redevelopment project. If approved, the money would “provide funds for State Center litigation costs.”

The state rescinded leases and sued the development team last year, and the case is expected to come to court in the fall. Hogan’s budget item drew a response from the developers, who can’t proceed with their project while a suit is pending.

“We aren’t going away and won’t stop fighting for State Center,” said development team representative Chris Coffey, in a statement. “Baltimore deserves nothing less.”

The future site of Iron Rooster at McHenry Row, via Lawrence Howard & Associates, Inc.

Iron Rooster Coming to McHenry Row

Iron Rooster, a full-service restaurant with a “breakfast all day” menu, has signed a lease to open a 7,000-square-foot location this summer at McHenry Row in Locust Point, in the former Greene Turtle and Piaza space. It will be Iron Rooster’s second location in Baltimore City and fourth in the state. Other locations are in Canton, Annapolis and Hunt Valley.

“Our breakfast all day concept is approachable and creates differentiation and separation from other restaurants,” said Iron Rooster founder and chief operating officer Kyle Algaze in a statement. “We choose McHenry Row because the surrounding area impresses us as a tight-knit community that enjoys great food and supports small businesses.”

“Attracting locally-owned restaurants… such as Iron Rooster advances our goal of creating one-of-a-kind environments, and avoids the cookie cutter tenant approach,” said Mark Sapperstein of 28 Walker Development, the landlord, in a release. “Iron Rooster employs a proven concept with its breakfast-all-day menu, and the ownership has demonstrated its ability to achieve success in different venues.”

Designers Sign up for Symphony Decorators Show House

Here’s a partial list of the more than 20 local interior designers whose work will be featured this spring at the 40th annual Baltimore Symphony Decorators’ Show House. This year’s location is an 1812 residence in Timonium called Mayfair, a former home of one of the members of the Cockey family, after whom Cockeysville was named.

The designers include: Paula Henry for the living room; Wendy Appleby for the dining room; Carol Weil for the second-floor sitting room; Russell Slouck for the master bedroom; Regina Bello for the “little boy’s room”; and Barbara Brown for another room on the second floor. In addition, one of the rooms will be decorated by a team of six interior design students from the Community College of Baltimore County, led by instructor Laura Kimball.

The three-week event, a fundraiser for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s educational programs, will be held from April 30 to May 21. Tickets are $25 in advance online or $30 at the door.

Gatch Hall

Milton W. Gatch Memorial Hall to be Demolished

The Milton W. Gatch Memorial Hall on Linden Avenue is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a $56 million, 10-story ambulatory care center and garage at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown campus. The six-story brick building started as a home for nurses and now houses a variety of departments.

Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Moves to Hunt Valley

After 27 years in Sparks, the architecture and engineering firm of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, Inc. has moved to a newly built headquarters at 40 Wight Avenue in Hunt Valley.

The five-story building brings together 500 employee-owners, occupying 105,000 square feet under one roof.

“When our headquarters last moved, in 1990, JMT was just a fraction of the size we are today,” said John A. Moeller, president of JMT, in a statement. “The move puts us together in one space again, which benefits our clients as well as our employees. It also gives us room to grow for years to come.”

Brick Bodies Coming to The Rotunda

A Brick Bodies fitness center is coming to The Rotunda this spring. The chain announced that that it is holding a presale event in which it is offering no down payment for the first 100 members. Brick Bodies will join a growing roster of tenants, including Mom’s Organic Market, Pet Valu, Starbucks and Pure Barre Baltimore.

No Sale for Heptasoph Hall

A voluntary auction of the former Heptasoph Hall at 1225 Cathedral Street was postponed last week, at the request of the seller. The building’s long-term tenants include Ryleigh’s Oyster on the lower level and the Theatre Project on the upper level. Jon Levinson of Alex Cooper Auctioneers said the auction will be rescheduled but he does not have a date yet.

Neighborhood Design Center Seeks Nominations for its Larry Reich Award

The Neighborhood Design Center is seeking nominations for its Larry Reich Award, named after Baltimore’s director of planning from 1965 to 1990, a central figure in the city’s rejuvenation during the William Donald Schaefer era.

The award was created in 1997 and recognizes someone from Baltimore who has undertaken a professional or volunteer career dedicated to grassroots neighborhood development. It is given jointly by the NDC and the Baltimore Planning Department. April 15 is the deadline for nominations, and the award will be announced during the NDC annual meeting on June 1. More information is available here.

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Ed Gunts

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