The former Schenuit Rubber Factory and smokestack, two aging landmarks visible to drivers traveling on the Jones Falls Expressway, will be demolished soon and replaced with a self-storage facility featuring a symbolic exterior mural and a “mini-museum” in its lobby.
Baltimore development firm Klein Enterprises purchased the property about a month ago and has acquired expedited demolition permits to address the facility’s perilous state. Built in 1900, the old tire factory building has burned several times in recent years.
On Sunday, part of its western wall partially collapsed due to a heavy mixture of snow and ice, a company official said, temporarily halting light rail service and blocking access to several businesses and nonprofits farther back along Union Avenue.
Demolition work began Monday, immediately after the city issued the permit. Klein is partnering with Morningstar Properties, its joint venture partner, on the self-storage site, and will implement stormwater management to improve its environmental impact, the company said in a news release Wednesday. It did not disclose how much it paid for the 1.4-acre property.
The new 150,000-square-foot facility will rise to a height of 60 feet, said Samuel Neuberger, Klein’s real estate director. The design will incorporate a steel canopy, stenciled industrial lettering, some corrugated metal and original artwork by Baltimore artist Bob Merrell. The mural with a nod to site’s industrial past will be visible to those heading north on the JFX as well as the Woodberry community.
“It evokes and pays homage to the history of the site,” Neuberger said about the redevelopment. “It’s been our opinion and position that after decades of neglect and numerous fires, it poses an enormous public safety risk, and renders the entire building to be unstable.”
The self-storage concept has been in development for the past 18 months, he said, and before that, the previous owner considered using the site for the same purpose.
Klein had engineers examine the structure, who determined that neither the factory nor its adjacent smokestack could be salvaged, Neuberger said. They have worked with community advocates and City Council members to ensure that the project complements its historic surroundings, he said.
James Torrence, the newly installed city councilman who represents Baltimore’s 7th District, which includes Woodberry, called the plan a “team effort” born out of several community meetings, discussions and neighborhood outreach.
“This is how we should work together,” said Torrence, who assumed the role Dec. 8. “The developer has been very receptive to the community ... especially given the fact that this is impacting residents and businesses.”
Torrence planned to host a virtual town hall Wednesday night for constituents and the developer. He said while the plans for self-storage developed before he took office, he is focused on keeping lines of communication open between neighbors and Klein.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry will help design and curate the exhibit portion, Neuberger said, along with Art at Large and PM Exhibits. The museum will incorporate Schenuit mementos and materials not currently on display at its Locust Point site.
Frank G. Schenuit opened his first Double Grip tire factory in the mid-1920s in industrial Woodberry, once a bustling, Civil War-era mill town. He opened another plant, in the building currently being demolished, in 1930.
The factory, a major producer of aircraft tires during World War II, closed decades ago and never converted to another use. It has been dogged by dilapidation.
Historic preservationists in Baltimore expressed disappointment in the plan.
“Demolishing a historic mill and replacing it with a boxy self storage building is a missed opportunity for Woodberry both in the loss of the historic mill and in missing out on getting a new use that would complement the artists and residents who make the neighborhood so vibrant,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of the preservation group Baltimore Heritage, in an email.
The Woodberry area received historic designation in July, which protects it from major development initiatives without the Baltimore preservation panel’s approval.
Neuberger said Klein and other stakeholders have been working for some time to gain site approval of the old factory, and successfully lobbied the City Council to have it excluded from historic review.
He said the plans “long predated” discussions about the Woodberry Historic District.
Alyssa Brown, the newly installed president of Woodberry’s community association, said several people in the neighborhood participated in a letter-writing campaign to include the Schenuit building in the historic district. But a last-minute amendment introduced by outgoing Councilman Leon Pinkett and approved by a majority of the Council carved it out from the designation.
“We were disappointed in that result,” said Brown, adding that she couldn’t yet comment on the plans for the new structure. “But we were happy to see the rest of Woodberry included in the designation.”
Brown said the community looks forward to receiving updates about the progression of the site and the safety of the ongoing cleanup effort.
Neuberger said the demolition likely will occur over a span of three months as crews carefully address the hazardous conditions and materials associated with the plant. The storage facility could open by the first quarter of 2022, he said.