When workers attached a construction elevator to the Art Deco brick skin of downtown Baltimore's 10 Light Street this week, this amazing commercial landmark began its path to becoming a home to residents in a newly forming city neighborhood.
I navigated the construction fence — parts of both Light and Redwood streets are temporarily closed — and found Cary M. Euwer Jr., the building's new owner, at work in what had been a former Bank of America office.
Euwer is president and CEO of Metropolitan Partnership, the Reston, Va., development firm that bought the old Baltimore Trust Co. property and is now converting it to 445 apartments. The bank and the building's major tenant, the Miles and Stockbridge law firm, vacated 10 Light in the spring, ending 84 years of commercial usage at this address.
"We gravitate toward trophy buildings in wonderful locations," Euwer told me as he led me through this basilica of banking, with its soaring murals, mosaic floors, extravagant use of marbles and fantastic ironwork. It's an amazing space that deserves a fresh interpretation. He promises to preserve this Baltimore treasure, down to its brass eagles, owls, crabs and even a beehive.
He described how he is using the original office floor layout to dictate the dimensions of the apartments. An apartment will be roughly the space that a single office was in 1929. But at the pinnacle of this classic skyscraper, in the tower, the apartments — and the views — will be more expansive. I predict that an invitation to any party from the lofty 32nd floor will be a coveted social engagement.
We spoke about the material riches of this banking temple, which was finished in 1929 just as the stock market plunged. With the curtains removed and bright lights on, I could see artist R. McGill Mackall's murals and iron artist Samuel Yellin's fantastic gates and light fixtures. Euwer, who was once a student at Harvard, recalled Yellin's other set of gates — at Harvard Yard. The Baltimore iron gates, inside the building, could be locked when the bank was closed, but lawyers and other tenants of 10 Light could get to their offices on the upper floors via an Art Deco elevator lobby.
And while native Baltimoreans might scratch their heads about living at Baltimore and Light, Euwer has a different take. He noted that 110,000 workers are a 10-minute walk away and that 10 Light's large windows afford excellent views of the city, many of them focused on the harbor. He also spoke of his firm's ability to work with high-profile retail tenants, including the shops and restaurants that he has leased at his Washington-area projects.
The 10 Light Street project is a centerpiece of what has been called the 401 Census Tract, a growing downtown area. Kirby Fowler of the Downtown Partnership predicted this new neighborhood "is on the brink of another major infusion of residents."
He said that while 10 Light, once the tallest building south of New York City, is the most visible symbol of this downtown living trend, there are several other properties. We spoke of the old Baltimore Life Insurance building at Charles and Saratoga and the old Federal Reserve Bank, which was later Provident Bank's headquarters, at Calvert and Lexington. Each of these is under apartment conversion.
"The past decade saw the number of residents in this area more than double in size, and today there are at least 4,000 residents in this small geographic neighborhood," Fowler said. "A downtown that was once purely commercial is now becoming a diverse neighborhood, with residents, hotel guests and patrons of the arts."
Word seems to be circulating that Euwer, who once brought some big-name retailers such as Tiffany, Hermes and Fendi to his Northern Virginia projects, might draw similar names to 10 Light.
"Tiffany. No. It's simple. They made the decision to go to Towson," he said, adding to stay tuned for announcements about 10 Light that will emerge in the next year. Model apartments are expected to be finished late next year.