Lawyers Mall construction to require temporary removal of Marshall statue

A failing heating system in front of the State House will require uprooting the Thurgood Marshall statue, along with its stone fixtures and surrounding bronze figures.

State officials say they might have to close a large area of Lawyers Mall for a year or more during the $11 million project. They have determined there isn’t room to keep the Marshall memorial intact while replacing pipes running below during construction.

“The only thing we had thought of (as a relocation) was anything adjacent to where it is now,” said Elaine Bachmann, secretary of the State House Trust. “But we don’t want anything shoehorned into any sort of corner.”

Project leaders expect to begin disassembling the plaza later this summer. Maryland State Archives will work with stone specialists and art handlers to put the memorial in storage. They’ll post signs around the site to explain why it had to be temporarily removed.

The plan is to eventually put the memorial back together. But in the meantime, the trucks and jack-hammering might cause a bigger headache for state officials: Where will they reroute activists’ rallies that would normally meet there?

Lawyers Mall, an area created in 1973 after the demolition of the Court of Appeals building, is a grass-and-brick-lined square, where citizens, lobbyists and lawmakers often gather. In Maryland it’s ground zero for the First Amendment, a place for speeches and sign-waving, especially during the 90-day legislative session.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, said he’s concerned about how the temporary loss of Lawyers Mall will disrupt a critical part of government.

“It’s been an area for public protests, public announcements,” he said. “It’s a very important place for people to advocate their positions on different issues.”

Traditionally, it’s also part of the venue for the governor’s inauguration, which happens every four years on the State House steps. It’s unclear how the project will affect the event in January.

“In this town, there aren’t a lot of alternate spaces,” Bachmann said.

Six months ago when lawmakers returned to Annapolis, they were struck by a shocking sight: The crab apple trees that once shaded Lawyers Mall had vanished.

The Department of General Services, which maintains the property, had reduced them to stumps while performing emergency repairs to pipes beneath them. The fix involved installing a couple of smokestacks, which puff steam into the walkways.

Nick Cavey, a spokesman for General Services, said the pipes under Lawyers Mall are the oldest remaining section of a steam distribution system installed in the 1990s.

Not repairing or replacing the infrastructure would eventually result in a heat and hot water failure for the Annapolis government campus, he said. That would impact the State House, Senate Office building, House Office building and Government House.

Cavey said in an email that Maryland Capitol Police “have identified alternate locations for planned demonstrations,” though he didn’t specify where.

Democrats, who control both houses of the General Assembly, reeled from the mall’s shoddy appearance. Lawmakers passed legislation giving the State House Trust more authority to oversee aesthetic changes to the plaza.

Marshall, whose bronze likeness presides over the plaza, was a civil rights leader and the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Near Marshall is a statue of Donald Gaines Murray, an African American whose entrance into the University of Maryland law school was one of Marshall’s important legal victories. The memorial, which was finished in 1996, also includes child figures representing the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Originally called Lawyers Street Plaza, the mall was designed by landscape architect Meade Palmer. Much of his design has changed over the years, Bachmann said, but one of her favorite elements that remains is a granite outline of historic Bladen Street. The road was part of the town’s layout in 1695, she said.

While project leaders work out the future design of the mall, Bachmann will be advocating for the Bladen outline to be restored.

“I think most visitors are completely unaware of what these ‘lines’ signify,” she said.

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