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Baltimore construction materials get new lease on life at Brick + Board

Humanim, a nonprofit workforce development organization, is recycling baltimore bricks and boards.

The sign on a former automobile sales and service garage on North Howard Street sums up its new use pretty well: Brick + Board.

Thousands of solid 19th-century Baltimore bricks — as well as boards made from yellow and white pine — await builders, carpenters, renovators and architects.

This is not a traditional lumber yard. It's housed in a former A.D. Anderson Honda service building at 2507 N. Howard on the edge of Remington and Charles Village.

The first sales of flooring and roof timber began here a few weeks ago, but already items have shown up in the interior at Hampden's Wicked Sisters restaurant, at the historic Carter G. Woodson Home in Washington and at the Exelon tower in Harbor East.

Visitors to the showroom also will find massive wrenches — salvaged from the former Bethlehem Steel Company's Sparrows Point plant — and some beams from a city-owned barn that stood on the grounds of the Loch Raven watershed.

The materials are for sale by a business that's a division of Humanim, a nonprofit workforce development organization. Most of its inventory, assembled over the past three years, once existed in abandoned Baltimore rowhouses that stood along East Eager, Federal and Chase streets.

Humanim, headquartered in the old American Brewery, works with city housing officials when old rowhouses need to be deconstructed.

Brick by brick, floorboard by floorboard, joist by joist, materials are disassembled, sorted and cleaned.

Cindy Plavier-Truitt, Humanim's chief business officer, said the process is a job creator, because deconstructing "provides six to eight times more jobs than demolition."

She said the nonprofit hires "people with barriers" — some formerly incarcerated men and women and those recovering from addiction.

Overseeing the sales floor is Max Pollock, 33, a graduate of the University of Michigan and the London School of Economics. He said he was once in law school but lasted just 40 days because, he freely admits, "I love old bricks."

Perhaps it's destiny that he found the perfect job.

Strike up a conversation with Pollock and he will explain how Baltimore rests on clay that makes what he calls "superior bricks." He has 350,000 of them to sell.

"Baltimore has great clay beds," he said. "Our geology and geography determine the way the city looks. And a supply of good timber, around the creeks and rivers of Maryland, allowed for the heat that baked the bricks in kilns."

Pollock is something of an expert on the Baltimore Brick Co., a firm that once had clay pits in the Broadway East and Berea neighborhoods in East Baltimore. He'll show you one of his prized items, a brick "maker" dated June 22, 1907. It was found in the wall of a home 1200 block of N. Bradford Street that was deconstructed by Humanim workers.

The home had been constructed by renowned Baltimore builder Frank Novak.

Pollack also has found lumber stenciled with the mark of purveyor Wilson & Merryman lumber yard, which, in the 19th century, operated in the harbor wholesale lumber district, now Harbor East.

"When a century-old Baltimore rowhouse reaches the end of the line, its bones deserve to live on, and we take pride in harvesting, preserving and preparing these materials for their next hundred years of life," Pollock says in a personal mission statement.

Baltimore has another architectural recycler, Second Chance. Brick and Board deals in large quantities of 19th-century bulk materials, but also will sell you sell you a single floorboard to patch up a kitchen.

"The key to us existing is the network of architects, designers and carpenters who are our customers," Pollock said.

He stresses that materials saved and sold find new good uses. For example, he notes nearby office towers where areas have been faced with his salvaged pine.

"Every single stick of wood came from homes in East Baltimore's Milton-Montford," said Pollock. "The wood was installed in Baltimore in the 1890s and was extracted by Baltimoreans in 2015.

"Then," he said, "it traveled three miles down the road to the new Exelon tower."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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