As I walked into the building generations of Baltimoreans knew as 11 East Chase, my memories of this venerable structure flashed back. The mosaic tile lobby, beamed ceilings, the oak parquet floors, fluted columns, wood paneling, marble trim and fireplaces all never looked better.
There was a difference. After months of restoration, this grand matron truly sparkles. It now retakes its place alongside other nearby treasures, including its neighbor, the Hotel Belvedere, as well as nearby institutions — the Maryland, Engineers and Mount Vernon clubs — and the neighborhood's churches and private homes.
I encountered this building as a child who had less than perfect eyesight. My ophthalmologist had an office here in a space that is now a very tony apartment. Over five decades, my memory played a common trick. I recalled the waiting room as being huge. On my return this week, I could see it was a normal size space. There was a new handicap ramp at the entrance as well.
The building opened in 1912 as the Algonquin, a stylish urban apartment house designed by Baltimore's J.B. Noel Wyatt and William Nolting, who gave Baltimore such gems as the Roland Park Shopping Center, a contender for the title of oldest shopping center ever. The Wyatt-Nolting combo turned out many private residences too, as well as the Keyser Building at Calvert and Redwood.
Nolting lived with his wife, Fannie, in a choice, east-facing apartment on the eighth floor of the Algonquin. Other tenants were Dr. John Ruhrah, a physician for whom a public school was named, and members of old Maryland families, including the Bailliers, Orricks and Symingtons. The 1930 City Directory also notes that the Algonquin had a lingerie shop operated by Mary Gaskins.
Not too long after the place opened its doors, it underwent the name change to 11 E. Chase, a name that became synonymous with physicians' offices. The original apartments were converted into medical offices, and the building surrendered its residential character but not its pedigree. Some of the city's best-known practitioners had their examining rooms here. It was also a favorite of psychiatrists. A doorman remained for decades.
The Algonquin name traveled uptown to Gladstone Avenue, where it found a home on a small apartment building.
In 2002 the Algonquin turned 90 years old. Its heating plant and elevators were failing. Its owner, the Daejan Group, a British property firm with U.K. and U.S. divisions, decided to close the building and mothball it. The apartment house sat vacant for nearly a decade until construction and restoration workers arrived in early 2013. For months, its handsome terra cotta exterior, which resembles Wedgwood porcelain, was shrouded in a black netting and scaffolding.
"It was empty for so long, and we were worried about people getting into the building," said Steve Shen, a member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association. "At one point, a huge graffiti tag appeared."
The Daejan Group had to conform to historic preservation standards. The windows facing St. Paul and Chase streets were cleaned and saved, then backed up with new storm windows to conserve energy. Replacement windows were used on the west and south facades.
I met with its manager, Sam Monderer, who told me its 56 units are renting themselves. Located on a prominent corner, St. Paul and Chase streets, the cleaned building became its own best advertisement. He said he has rented most of it without formal advertising. There's only a sandwich board with a few balloons at the corner.
"It's been strictly word of mouth," he said. "The tenants are doctors, nurses and legal workers."
The views from restored apartment windows are amazing. I observed Penn Station and the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Washington Monument in the distance and the New Deliverance Church, formerly Christ's Episcopal Church, close up, just across Chase Street.