The 1889 mansion at Calvert and Biddle streets has recently made a visual statement, sporting a much-needed cleaning, with sparkling windows and glossy black paint on the window frames. There's new copper trim work, too, but alas, we'll have to wait another year for its completion as The Ivy, a promised luxury boutique hotel.
Its publicists have described this effort as a "rich and magical amalgam of old Baltimore." A large addition is underway on Hunter Street, the east flank of this substantial property, which also involves a handful of other Calvert Street rowhouses.
For more than 40 years I've passed this address, 1129 N. Calvert St., and didn't really consider this substantial dark brick and stone home with a round corner turret. It is an unmistakable Victorian residence, one of the larger ones in Mount Vernon, but it is one of many.
Every old house has stories to tell, and this one is no exception. For starters, its first owner, banker John Gilman, died during its construction.
Then came the wildly successful inventor and his wife, William and Harriet Painter. This couple raised their son and two daughters here and made a name in the industrial history of Baltimore. Painter and his business wound up employing thousands of workers.
Painter, a Quaker born in Montgomery County and distantly related to artist Howard Pyle, is little recalled today. He is the inventor of processes we take for granted. He founded Crown Cork and Seal Co. and is basically the inventor of the bottle cap, holding global patents on it. I have an image of Painter ducking out the home's back door and trotting northward along Guilford Avenue to the big factory he built there at Federal Street.
His reach was large, and he was a Baltimore booster. "There is but one Baltimore and there is not need of saying to anybody that it is in Maryland," Painter said.
His first group of factories includes what is now the Baltimore Design School, at Federal and Barclay streets near Green Mount Cemetery, as well as the adjacent buildings, known as the Cork Factory and the Copy Cat building, now home to artists' lofts.
Painter died in 1906 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. His funeral was held at his summer home, 204 Ridgewood Road in Roland Park, which shows if you were wealthy enough, one big house in Baltimore was just not enough.
Painter's Crown Cork and Seal Co. was so successful that its buildings near Green Mount Cemetery could not contain all the work they had making the machinery used to cap soft drink and beer bottles.
So after his death, another CC&S campus sprang up in Highlandtown, where building after building rose along with a silo to hold the cork once used on the underside of bottle caps.
Painter's business remains and is known as Crown Holdings, with 139 plants in 41 countries. His former factories in Baltimore were built solidly, like his Calvert Street home. They hold everything from soap makers to artists who rent space in these repurposed industrial locations.
His wife, Harriet Deacon Painter, made good use of her husband's money. At her death in 1918, she gave $10,000 to construct the Children's Hospital School as a memorial to her husband. The school was on the grounds of the Childrens Hospital on Greenspring Avenue north of Druid Hill Park. The William Painter Memorial remains, now part of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, as a school for adolescents with special needs.
Her entire estate was estimated to be worth $31 million in today's money.
The old Calvert Street house went on to become the offices of Drs. Eugene Hayward, Thomas K. Galvin, Joseph Gately and Frank Morris in the 1930s, when so many mansions in Mount Vernon became less fashionable — and were hard to heat.
It wound up being a city Department of Recreation and Parks office, then underwent a 1980s restoration as Government House under the William Donald Schaefer administration. That one didn't take so well. Now it's The Ivy's turn.