W. McNeill 'Mac' Baker, retired Baltimore architect who specialized in health care facilities, dies

W. McNeill “Mac” Baker, a retired Baltimore architect who was a partner in the firm of Edmunds, Hyde & Baker Inc., died June 5 in his sleep at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. He was 96.

“I knew his reputation for years, and his specialty was medical facilities and hospitals. He was the go-to-guy for such facilities,” said Tom Spies, an architect who recently retired from the Baltimore firm of Hord Coplan Macht Inc.

“He was very research-oriented,” said Mr. Spies, a Ruxton resident. “He was a very considerate person who listened to people when they spoke, and they listened to him when he spoke.”

Wurster McNeill Baker was born in Twin Bridges, Mont., and was raised in Spokane, Wash. He was the son of Dr. Emory Dodge Baker, a physician, and Cora Kinkel Baker, a musician and homemaker.

He graduated from Gonzaga Preparatory High School in Spokane, then attended the Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He completed the college’s five-year program in three years, graduating in 1943.

Because he “loathed” his first name, he never used it and preferred to be called “Mac,” family members said.

“When he got to Cornell, he ditched it,” said his daughter, Dr. Catherine M. Baker of Lemont, Ill.

From 1943 to 1947, he served in the Army Air Corps and participated in the occupation of Japan at the end of World War II.

After returning from Japan, he spent a year in New York City working for an architectural firm and preparing for the licensing exam.

During his last semester at Cornell, he had met and fallen in love with Marguerite Moore. They married in 1949.

The couple settled in Spokane, but because finding work as an architect was difficult, they moved to Baltimore in 1952.

Mr. Baker joined the architectural firm of James R. Edmunds Jr. — which was founded in 1886 and was the oldest continuous architectural practice in Maryland. There, he specialized in designing hospitals, health care facilities, as well as a few houses, schools and churches. He designed the Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville.

“He was very proud that he was working for one of the oldest firms in Baltimore,” said Walter Schamu, a principal in SM+P Architects.

Some of Mr. Baker’s medical commissions included designing the Children’s Medical and Surgical Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital; the cardiology, radiation therapy and psychiatry units at Sinai Hospital; and the Gudelsky Building at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mr. Baker and his wife were first drawn to visit the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer at Charles Street and Melrose Avenue by its architect, Pietro Belluschi, who designed it along with noted Baltimore architects Frank Taliaferro, Charles Lamb and Archibald Rogers.

“They stayed because they liked the rector and the people there,” his daughter said.

Mr. Baker designed the church’s American with Disabilities Act compliant facilities, as well as the renovation of its 19th-century chapel and its first columbarium.

“For decades, Mac was the in-house architect at Redeemer and did a wonderful job,” said Mr. Spies.

“He liked the church architecture of Pietro Belluschi, who of course was very much a modernist,” he said. “It is very apparent over time that buildings need to be modernized, and Mac understood that, but he wanted the architecture to be respected, as was his work with the chapel.”

“Mac was really a student of world architectural history and never wanted to stop learning,” said Vincent Greene, a Roland Park architect and a Redeemer communicant who worked with him on church projects. “His career went from the end of the Beaux-Arts period to modernism and post-modernism, and he could comment on a whole scale of architectural history.”

Mr. Spies said Redeemer recently completed a second columbarium, and he noted that it “reflects details from the one he designed in the early 1980s.”

“He was so quiet and unassuming that when we wanted to put up a plaque at Redeemer, he was very much against it,” said Mr. Greene. “His art went into a lot of buildings not attributed to him. He wasn’t one to trumpet his own name.”

Mr. Baker had been a member of Redeemer’s vestry and had been junior warden. To honor his long devotion to the church, officials named its lobby that connects with the parish hall for him.

Today, most architects use computer-aided drafting and design systems, but Mr. Baker remained a traditionalist who preferred to hand-draw and color his designs.

“I have a drawing he gave me that he did of the Redeemer steeple and it’s simply awe-inspiring,” said Mr. Greene, a Mount Washington resident.

“The lobby at Redeemer contains some of his drawings,” Mr. Spies said.

In 1982, Mr. Baker was named president and director of design at Edmunds, Hyde & Baker Inc. When the firm closed seven years later, he found jobs for all of its employees and began a second career as an architectural consultant for Whitney, Bailey, Cox and Magnani.

In his last year of practice, at age 86, he was a delegate to a People-to-People Healthcare Architecture Tour in the People’s Republic of China.

He retired in 2007.

Mr. Baker was an active member and former president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In addition to his own work, he taught architectural design at the Johns Hopkins University’s McCoy College.

“Mac was a very fine fellow and just a gentle soul. He was the kind of person who was always polite and interested in so many things,” said Mr. Schamu, a Federal Hill resident. “He had a deep love of architecture.”

The Cornell Club of Maryland inaugurated the W. McNeill Baker and Marguerite Baker Scholarship, and the couple spent years raising money for it and interviewing prospective student applicants.

A longtime resident of Ridgeleigh Road in Stoneleigh, he moved to Blakehurst in 2010.

He was a fan of classical music, and earlier in his life had been an accomplished woodworker.

“But when you’re working 80- and 100-hour weeks, he didn’t have much time for hobbies,” his daughter said.

His wife died in 2017.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at his church, 5603 N. Charles St.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
77°