Jacques Kelly: The 'Fox' of Jones Falls showing new stripes in move from industrial building to housing

Many of the old flour and cotton mills and foundries that flourished in the Jones Falls Valley for more than two centuries have been restored and converted into apartments over the past few decades.

But at the Fox Industries Building, workers only stopped making stuff earlier this year. Soon after, the interior demolition crews arrived, and it’s currently a $20 million construction project.

Now, this former concrete additives plant is giving way to a swimming pool, concierge station, artists’ studios and 93 loft apartments.

The Fox building is actually something of a newcomer in a neighborhood where water turbines powered looms and machinery 200 years ago. The plant was mostly constructed in the 1930s as it was enlarged with wings and additional floors.

With its white exterior masonry walls and glass block windows, it has a distinct ’30s feel, though this blocky looking plant will never be confused with anything but a no-frills, hardworking industrial site.

The street address is 3100 Falls Cliff Road, but the land falls off here — at the side of the Jones Falls Valley — so I would describe the Fox building as being at Roland Avenue and Falls Road in Hampden.

“Part of the beauty of the Fox Building is that it’s only a few blocks from the heart of Hampden and its Avenue,” said Dominic Wiker, development director for this project, a joint venture of the Fox family and Washington Place Equities. “We worked with the neighborhood to leave 10,000 square feet of the building — about 10 percent of its size — dedicated to artist studios and live-work spaces.”

Wiker said his model for the artist spaces was the Lion Brothers Building, on South Poppleton Street in Southwest Baltimore — a place that combines offices with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County digital arts program.

On a tour of the Fox building, Wiker pointed to ceiling heights in excess of 17 feet, concrete floors restored to a satin sheen and oversized industrial windows. At the time, Whiting Turner workers were roughing in loft apartment units in the cavernous former industrial spaces.

In a few weeks, electricians and plumbers will get to work so that the apartments will be available early next summer. The rents are not determined, Wiker said.

He predicts the Fox’s swimming pool will be ready for summer 2018 in a private outdoor area where the two main buildings are joined. Its brick chimney will house a new gas fireplace, he said.

The building is located in a National Historic District, and Wiker noted that the National Park Service has to approve “every new window.”

Restoring the building’s glass blocks in particular, he said, was not easy. “We had to get them from the Czech Republic, where they are still making them in sizes we could use.

The Fox family, which retained ownership of the building, had leased much of the structure to the Simpson Strong Tie Corp., which made industrial fasteners there. The last Simpson workers left the property earlier this year.

Noxzema skin cream was made within these walls from 1926 to 1966. Then the Noxell Corp. moved to Hunt Valley.

Residents in the Hampden and the adjoining Stone Hill community say they are eager to see a new use for the structure.

“I’m bullish about it,” said Mark Thistel, who lives nearby on Pacific Street. “It’s good that an old building is being rehabilitated and the development team is well financed. I have every confidence they will do a good job.”

Thistel said housing might be a more compatible use today than the era when place used heavy duty solvents — “not something you wanted to breathe,” he said.

Wiker, the developer, sees the Fox Building as attracting persons in their late 20s and 30s.

“I see it filled with Hopkins Homewood campus graduate students, early- to mid-career professionals and those who work north of the city,” he said. “I don’t think our residents will be quite as young as those who lived in the downtown apartment buildings.”

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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