Opening doors to Baltimore's industrial past

For The Baltimore Sun
Tour offers proof Baltimore isn't a ghost town.

Baltimore's manufacturing heyday is long past. But the buildings that housed those industries were sturdily constructed. Many have survived and now thrive as residences, theaters, restaurants, artist studios, classrooms, museums, retail shops and contemporary industries.

Doors Open Baltimore, a new event sponsored by AIABaltimore, the city's chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation gives the public the opportunity this coming Saturday to visit 42 sites in the city to see the ways in which old factory buildings have been given new life.

Here's a chance to learn that the building that now houses the Charles Theatre was built in 1892 as a streetcar barn, and that the newly opened Baltimore Design School was initially the machine shop for the Crown Cork and Seal Company, and that Meadow Mill was part of Baltimore's extensive textile industry and later a London Fog factory.

"This event," says Kathleen Lane, AIABaltimore's executive director, "is really a great opportunity for the public to see the city in a new way, to learn more about architecture and to understand the history of the city through the buildings that are going to be open to the public that are not normally open to view."

Lane says industry was chosen as the theme of the city's inaugural Doors Open event because "there are so many great industrial buildings that are now being finally adapted and reused for new purposes. It's a chance for the public to see great historical sites that are now being restored and converted."

Tom Liebel, a principal at Marks, Thomas Architects, is fascinated with old industrial buildings and their histories. His firm, which is part of the tour, occupies the second floor of a Key Highway building where beginning in 1901 the Mangels Herold Co. made King Syrup.

As a kickoff to Doors Open, Liebel will discuss his book, "Images of America: Industrial Baltimore," this Thursday at the Baltimore Design School, illustrating his talk with "then and now" photos of industrial sites.

"A lot of what I'm trying to do," he says, "is go back and try to understand who used to work there, what used to be done there and talk about some of Baltimore's lost heritage, the strong manufacturing base we had and the number — thousands upon thousands — of people who were all employed here and no longer have factory jobs."

Manufacturing has returned to the former Suburban Beverages' RC Cola plant in Waverly. The beverage there now is decidedly more robust: It's beer and lots of it. Peabody Heights Brewery produces beers on contract as well as its own labels.

"It's a perfect building," says J. Hollis B. Albert III, the brewery's general manager. "It has high ceilings for us. It has floor drains. That's a big dollar amount. And it has more power in here. We could light up the neighborhood. It provides us with a little bit of office space. We have a tasting room and then a brewing space that's laid out nearly perfect."

The Doors Open event will coincide with the inaugural use of the brewery's tasting room. So along with a factory tour, Albert says, visitors will get "a little tasting of some malt beverage."

In contemporary architecture argot, the word for the adaptive use of old buildings is "repurposing." Nowhere is this word better illustrated then at one of Baltimore's architectural salvage operations: Second Chance, not far from the new Horseshoe Casino.

Not only has its huge complex of warehouses been repurposed — it once held Doveco, a fabricator of duct work, welding and structural support systems, as well as ILEX Woodworking — but Second Chance's job is to repurpose parts of buildings about to be demolished.

"Second Chance was a pioneer in the deconstruction industry when it was founded in 2000," says Kathleen Bailey, its director of development. "From the standpoint of our role in the deconstruction industry, it's kind of an interesting place to see all of the amazing things here for sale that would otherwise end up in the landfill."

Those "amazing things" include what appears to be acres of doors, kitchen cabinets, appliances, lighting, flooring, shutters, furniture, vintage door locks and hinges, staircase banisters ... you name it.

Second Chance will offer visitors a self-guided tour. "We're going to give them a map, showing them areas that will be of more interest to them that have either examples of creative repurposing or salvaged architectural interests, that sort of thing," Bailey says.

Baltimore's six public markets might not at first seem to be part of the city's industrial landscape. But before supermarkets, places like Lexington Market played a vital role in the business of feeding Baltimore. Hollins Market in West Baltimore is of particular interest because the building hasn't been repurposed. It has remained mostly unchanged since an addition was made in 1864.

"I don't think any tour in Baltimore is complete unless you include the six treasures of Baltimore, which includes Lexington and [other] Baltimore public markets," says Darlene Hudson, marketing and promotion manager for Baltimore Public Markets Corp.

She says visitors to each market will be introduced to longtime vendors, such as Nancy and Bill Devine, the fifth-generation owners of Faidley's Seafood in Lexington Market, and Charles Kaplan at Hollins Market, who Hudson says has been "serving up some of the best fish sandwiches in Baltimore."

The impetus for Doors Open Baltimore came from Chelsea Thomas, an architect with Marks, Thomas Architects. She had worked in Denver, where a Doors Open has been held annually for 10 years. Last Christmas, she approached AIABaltimore's Lane, who became excited about starting a similar event in Baltimore. Planning began in earnest in July with Thomas as event chair.

"I hope that people will get a better understanding of their surroundings, get to know their neighborhoods and neighborhoods that they've never been to before," says Thomas. "I hope they go to new places and feel more comfortable visiting them again, learn a little about Baltimore's industrial heritage, and just feel more comfortable with Baltimore city in general, especially people who haven't been here their whole lives."

Doors Open Special Free Events

Tour of Mt. Vernon. Beginning at 11 a.m. at the Seated Lion statue across from 17 W. Mount Vernon Place, Mount Vernon Place's West Park. Limited to 20 participants.

Tours of Woodberry neighborhood. Half-hour tours beginning at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., beginning at Woodberry Kitchen, 2010 Clipper Park Road.

Tours and tastings. Peabody Heights Brewery, 410 E. 30th St., starting at 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Must be 21 to receive beer samples.

For registration for all special events, go to doorsopenbaltimore.org

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If you go: Doors Open Baltimore

Launch event. Architect Tom Liebel will talk about Baltimore's industrial history. He's the author of "Images of America: Industrial Baltimore." A reception and book signing will follow the lecture on Thursday, Oct. 23, 6-8 p.m. at the Baltimore Design School, 1500 Barclay St. Admission is free. Go to aiabaltimore.org/events for more information.

Doors Open. Open house at 42 industrial and former industrial sites throughout Baltimore on Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Admission is free. For a complete listing of venues with descriptions and links to maps, go to http://doorsopenbaltimore.org.

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