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Historic landmark status sought for Loch Raven Library

A group of local resident have joined with an architect's family to submit the Loch Raven Library for inclusion on the Baltimore County Historic Landmarks List.

"It's a treasure, an absolute treasure," said Bitten Norman, one of the five people whose name is listed on the application, "not to mention the fact that it was designed by someone who was very much a visionary as far as design went."

The architect, the late Robert Randall Fryer Sr., won the 1967-68 Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Baltimore & Baltimore Chapter of American Institute of Architects Superior Design Award for his design of the library. He also designed The Church of the Redeemer on Charles Street and the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher.

Norman also said the building was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, noting that Fryer's wife was a protege of Wright.

In a 1993 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Fryer said of the library design, "I wanted to create an oasis in the woods, a place where people could enjoy the woods but that was in and of itself a different form. I wanted to build in the woods without upsetting the woods."

But Norman said that in addition to noting its past, the application for historic recognition was submitted to help ensure the library's future.

In February 1993, Loch Raven was one of nine county library branches that were closed due to budget cuts. Five years later, community members suceeded in lobbying officials to bring the library back, and it reopened in roughly one third of the building's space. The Baltimore County Health Department uses the other portion.

Fish: 'No truth' to demolition rumors

Norman said many neighbors fear the library, which she said serves thousands of residents within walking distance, is under threat of closure or demolition.

But Jim Fish, director of the Baltimore County Public Library system, said there was "absolutely no truth, whatsoever," to that claim.

"I don't know where that came from," he said. "No one has talked to me about tearing it down, and I haven't talked to anyone who has suggested anything like that.

"That building's going to be around for a long time," he said.

Nevertheless, Fish said he does have reservations about the historical designation — especially on a building he believes has plenty of flaws.

"What I don't understand is why some people feel so positively about it when, as a service point, I think it has a huge number of liabilities," he said.

Fish said the building is hidden from street view by foliage for most of the year, and because it's so set back from the road, he believes it's "not particularly welcoming."

Additionally, he said, accessibility to the library is difficult for parents with strollers and individuals in wheelchairs, namely because it requires patrons to traverse a 100-foot bridge to reach the library entrance.

This isn't the first time Fish has made such comments about the library, but he said, "it's a quantum leap of logic to go from that to there's a plan to tear the building down."

Marks: Branch has 'special history and architecture'

Historical designation could put restrictions on improvements to the facility. If the Landmarks Preservation Commission believes the property can meet any of its criteria, it can schedule a hearing on the building and, after hearing testimony, place it on the Preliminary Landmarks List.

That list is then sent to the County Council, which has final say in voting landmarks onto the final list.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said he would ultimately wait on deciding whether to support historical status until he spoke with Fish and learned of the Landmark Preservation Commission's position on the building.

Even so, he's personally fond of the building.

"I spent many Saturdays in that library as a kid, and think it has special history and architecture among our county libraries," Marks said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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