Contractors demolished an historic West Baltimore building last week without a permit, city housing officials said.
While the city issued a “stop work” notice Saturday, all that remains of the former St. Vincent Infant Asylum, built between 1860 and 1910, is a giant mound of bricks and garbage.
Originally built for Catholic nuns to provide housing and medical services to dependent children and women, the structure was converted to apartments in the early 1940s, offering affordable rentals largely to African-American tenants until it closed in 2013 due to disrepair.
A massive three-alarm fire swept through the building in 2015, requiring more than 100 firefighters to extinguish and leaving parts of it little more than the exterior shell.
Baltimore Housing issued the stop work order because the owner failed to obtain a demolition permit, spokeswoman Tania Baker said. The only permit issued was for removal of a fire-damaged rear wall.
The contractor that demolished the property last week could not be reached for comment; neither could the property’s owner, a New York City-based LLC called 1411 Division Street LLC.
State property records show it acquired the property in 2016 for $866,400 from another LLC associated with Hasan “Jay” Jalisi, a member of the House of Delegates representing western Baltimore County. 1411 Division Street’s principal office is with Michael Chetrit of the Chetrit Organization in New York City. Neither Chetrit nor his resident agent returned calls from The Baltimore Sun.
The 32,400-square-foot property was valued at $696,533 as of July 2017.
Baltimore Housing is assessing the appropriate fine and penalty for the work without a permit, Baker said.
Baltimore City City Councilman Eric Costello said he had heard Saturday about the demolition of the building, which lies in his district. Visiting the site, he said, “I was pretty concerned with what I saw.”
He alerted Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman. Costello said the building’s owner is “facing some pretty significant penalties.”
The surprise demolition upset historic preservationists but was welcomed by nearby residents.
Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit focused on historic and architectural preservation, said his group has watched the building for a number of years.
“We’ll never know if it could have been saved for a rehabilitation project like hundreds of other buildings,” Hopkins said.
But those who live near were happy to see it go.
“They should knock it down, because it’s nothing but an eyesore,” said Wilfred Sanders, a local resident.
Sanders said a contractor had started working on it two years ago and then stopped.
After coming out of his home across the street, Dyondre Herron said the building has been vacant for at least the past six years, or as long as he’s been there, and that “they should knock them down.”
On its website, Baltimore Heritage called the fire-damaged building, formerly the Carver Hall Apartments, “an important landmark reflecting Baltimore’s legacy of philanthropy, nationally significant Catholic history, and the history of African-American housing during the mid-20th century.”
Hopkins said the building is in an historic district. Several nearby buildings have a deep history in Baltimore’s African-American musical, artistic, literary and political history such as The Comedy Club or the Booker T. Washington Middle School.
Baltimore County resident Pamela Suarez, a historic building “hobbyist,” was taking pictures of the middle school when she saw the demolition and walked over to take pictures and wondered what it looked like before. She said she tries to focus on Baltimore’s nice historic buildings, not all the vacant ones.
“At least the demolition is contained,” she said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Christina Tkacik and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.