Baltimore’s War Memorial Building, a historic landmark across from City Hall, is scheduled to receive a restoration that will correct a flaw it has had since the 1970s and make it more functional and attractive for public events. 

The publicly-owned building at 101 North Gay Street honors and serves all veterans of Maryland. It also provides a dignified and historically-significant setting for public gatherings ranging from taxpayer meetings to concerts to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s inauguration last month.

A key feature of Baltimore’s Business and Government National Register Historic District, the War Memorial was built at the cost of $1.1 million and opened in 1925. It was designed to be a “place of meeting for all veteran, patriotic and civic organizations, a depository of trophies of wars in which our country has engaged, and a tribute to those citizens of Maryland who gave their lives and services to their country in World War I.”

In 1977, former Mayor William Donald Schaefer rededicated the building as a memorial to the Marylanders who gave their lives in all of America’s 20th-century wars. It is owned jointly by the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, but the city operates and maintains it, through its Department of General Services.

The War Memorial has one shortcoming that wasn’t a problem when it opened in 1925. According to Jackson Gilman-Forlini, Historic Properties Program Coordinator for the Department of General Services, 18 large windows were covered with soundproofing material as part of a 1970s effort to improve acoustics and add air conditioning in the auditorium.

Covering the glass, engineers reasoned at the time, would dampen the echo in the room, known as Memorial Hall. But the hall also became more gloomy and reliant on artificial illumination. Without natural light, it is harder to appreciate many of the interior details, including a series of insignias that line the walls.  It was not the effect intended by the original architect, Laurence Hall Fowler.

The windowless War Memorial Building.

Gilman-Forlini said the idea for the restoration came after he and a colleague discovered a photo of the space before the renovation.

The War Memorial Building before the renovation.

“We always knew that there had been windows in the Memorial Hall because they are visible from the exterior of the building,” he said. “However, in late 2014, my coworker at the time, Sam Savin, and I discovered the [pre-renovation] photograph in the War Memorial archive. It was then that we realized the full extent of architect Laurence Hall Fowler’s design.”

The photo showed that the main hall had a much different character before the windows were covered up.

“It was clear that returning natural light to the hall would improve the historic integrity of the building as well as have a powerful effect on improving the visitor experience,” Gilman-Forlini said. “The War Memorial currently welcomes over 50,000 people annually for civic events, and we want to be able to provide a functional and attractive space for them.”

At this point, a bit of detective work came into play. The discovery of the one photo led to a more thorough search through the city’s archives. That search unearthed documentation from the 1970s related to the decision to cover the windows with soundproofing material. Rediscovered design drawings from that project showed that there was potential to restore the hall to its original appearance.

In 2015, the Department of General Services commissioned a feasibility study by Marks, Thomas Architects. The architects were asked to explore the options for restoring the windows, provide preliminary drawings, and give an estimate of the probable cost. This study was completed in March 2016.

The restoration plan by Marks Thomas calls for a relatively simple fix. Their 2016 study showed that the original windows are still in place behind the soundproofing material that was added in the 1970s. Once the soundproofing material is removed, the windows will be able to let in natural light again. The windows themselves do not need to be replaced.

The Department of General Services operates all of the city’s buildings, including a number of landmark-quality structures. The Marks Thomas study provided a preliminary estimated cost of between $146,000 and $677,000 for uncovering the windows, depending on certain variables and alternatives, such as installing motorized black-out shades to control interior lighting.

After removing the existing acoustic material, Gilman-Forlini said, his office will be able to assess the hall’s acoustics. At that point, he said, “it is our goal to design a new acoustic treatment system with more current technology as part of a separate project. This treatment will be more sensitive to the historic integrity of the building.” 

One benefit of reintroducing natural light, Gilman-Forlini added, will be to conserve electricity currently used for artificial lighting. The city is also exploring the option of installing interior storm windows to save on heating costs, he said.

Detailed design work is expected to get underway in fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, followed by construction. From the architects’ preliminary cost estimate, the city has budgeted $500,000 for the project. Funds are coming from a Cultural Institutions bond issue approved by city voters. All work will be done to meet the federal government’s “Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Property.”

American City Building to be demolished in Columbia

One of the first major office buildings in Columbia will be demolished the make way for new development overlooking Lake Kittimaqundi.

The Howard Hughes Corp., the master developer of Columbia, announced this month that it had acquired the American City Building, which shares a parking lot with the former Rouse Company headquarters, for $16.5 million and plans to tear it down.

“Specific plans for the [American City Building] site and its adjacent surface parking lot contemplate complete demolition of the existing structure, which is mostly vacant, and development of a new mixed-use project with multi-family, retail and restaurant space,” the developer said.

The purchase gives Howard Hughes the potential to build up to 1.5 million square feet of retail and residential space in Columbia’s Lakefront District, the developer said.

The American City Building is one of two that Howard Hughes acquired this month. It also purchased One Mall North, a four-story, 97,500-square-foot office building that occupies a 5.37-acre site on the outside ring road surrounding The Mall in Columbia. The price was $22.25 million. The building is 100% leased.

Howard Hughes indicated that it might want to replace One Mall North with a larger development at some point. “The longer-term value creation opportunity is due to the site’s underlying zoning potential, which allows for a variety of uses, including retail, office, and multifamily with new construction of up to nine stories,” it said, and that makes the parcel “suitable for significant future redevelopment when market conditions warrant.”

Neither building is protected by landmark designation. The American City Building was the headquarters for many years of the Enterprise Foundation, the nonprofit affordable housing organization founded in 1981 by developer James Rouse and his wife Patty, and its affiliate, the Enterprise Development Company. It also housed the Columbia Archives for many years. There has been talk of creating a historic district along the Columbia lakefront, including the former Exhibit Center and Rouse Company headquarters, two early buildings designed by California architect Frank Gehry.

Construction begins on SoHa Union

Construction has begun on SoHa Union, part of the new SoHa Row arts district planned for the 4700 and 4800 blocks of Harford Road near Lauraville-Hamilton. Sam Polakoff’s Property Consulting Inc. is the developer and Alexander Design Studio is the architect. Zeke’s Coffee and a new restaurant by the owners of Maggie’s Farm are among the first SoHa Row tenants.

RK&K selects MacKenzie to build its new headquarters in the Candler Building

RK&K, a Baltimore engineering firm, has selected MacKenzie Contracting Company to build a 116,000-square-foot headquarters on two floors of the Candler Building at 111 Market Place. Scott Albright, Mackenzie’s senior vice president of operations, will oversee the project, which will house about 500 employees. 

National Aquarium names Scott Douglas Melton a senior vice president

The National Aquarium in Baltimore has promoted Scott Douglas Melton to be its Senior Vice President/Chief Philanthropy Officer. Melton joined the aquarium in January 2015 as vice president of individual giving. He became the acting senior vice president/chief philanthropy officer in April 2016.  The aquarium has also added two new individual giving officers, Meg Macklin Amundson and Molly Dolan.

Supano’s Steakhouse seeks to expand on Water Street

Supano’s Steakhouse has applied to Baltimore’s liquor board to expand its business to the second and third floors of its current location, 110 Water Street. The liquor board will consider the application at a hearing on January 26.

The Drinkery sale approved

Baltimore’s liquor board last week approved an application to transfer the liquor license of The Drinkery at 205 West Read Street, from longtime owner Frederick Allen to his granddaughter, Amy Louise Miller, and a business partner, Stanley Freeman. The business, including the liquor license, sold for $250,000, according to documents on file with the liquor board.

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Ed Gunts

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

One reply on “Urban Landscape: War Memorial Building to Be Restored; American City Bldg. to be demolished; Construction at SoHa Union; and more”

  1. Great reporting on the War Memorial building, thank you. I was in there recently, and it really is an under-appreciated gem. Natural light will improve it enormously, like the Basilica.

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