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Baltimore City Council poised to designate Cab Calloway grandmother’s house as historic landmark

The Baltimore City rowhome once occupied by jazz legend Cab Calloway’s maternal grandmother has cleared the last major hurdle on its way to being designated as a historic landmark by the city’s preservation panel.

Annie Reed, whose home served as an epicenter of the Calloway clan, may have been the force behind her grandson’s musical talents. She trained her children and grandchildren, including Cab’s sister, Blanche, in instrumental and vocal education at her 1316 N Carey St. home, according to a 1934 article published by The Afro.

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City-hired crews razed Calloway’s boyhood home on Druid Hill Avenue in September, despite pleas from family, neighbors and preservationists to designate it as a landmark. The site will be repurposed into a large community park that also will memorialize Calloway and his contributions to music.

But designating his grandmother’s home solidifies the family’s long-term legacy in Baltimore, several speakers argued during a City Council committee hearing Tuesday, and recognizes the city’s history as a home for several prominent artists of color.

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1316 N Carey St., where Cab Calloway's grandmother lived and where he lived briefly, is poised to be designated as a historic landmark.
1316 N Carey St., where Cab Calloway's grandmother lived and where he lived briefly, is poised to be designated as a historic landmark. (Eagleview/Baltimore Commission for Architectural and Historic Preservation)

“This house is so important,” said Lauren Schiszik, a historic preservation planner with the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation who testified during the hearing. “So rarely do historic designations acknowledge the extended families and the importance of larger family units as important in someone’s life.”

In a staff report authored by Schiszik that recommended the City Council approve the designation, she noted that preserving the N. Carey Street home not only honors Calloway but also pays tribute to the extended family that raised him. Like other families in Baltimore, the Calloways depended on a large family unit to help rear the children, she added.

She said the family left its mark on three properties in the city, but this one’s significance supersedes the others.

“The influence and support of the family that lived in this house really made this a familial home base,” Schiszik wrote in the report. “Cab and Blanche Calloway’s maternal family was the foundation they used to build their careers. [Annie’s] influence deserves recognition.”

With the designation, the house will now be subject to CHAP review for all exterior modifications. It also offers it some protection from being demolished or redeveloped into something unrecognizable.

Outgoing Councilman Leon Pinkett, a Democrat, sponsored the city ordinance, which was introduced in June. Now that it has been approved by the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, it will go before the full council before it lands on the mayor’s desk.

During the hearing, Pinkett said the designation appropriately celebrates Calloway’s life and that of his family.

Prior to the hearing, Calloway’s youngest daughter, Cabella, and oldest grandson, C. Calloway Brooks, wrote letters to CHAP in support of the designation of the “Reed Calloway House.”

“Historical Designation of the property will serve to bolster Baltimore’s ongoing cultural and economic renaissance as well as foster greater pride, appreciation and understanding among all citizens and visitors,” Brooks wrote in a letter dated Nov. 19.

Calloway was best known for his accomplishments as a jazz singer and bandleader, as well as his acting in movies like “The Blues Brothers.” After spending much of his youth in Baltimore, he became famous for his contributions to the greater popularization of big band jazz and is recognized by some as one of the early founders of hip-hop music.

He and other jazz musicians of his day, such as Billie Holiday, Dizzie Gillespie and Nat King Cole, played venues like the Royal Theatre on Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue, which was a few blocks from the house at 2216 Druid Hill Ave.

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