Morgan State architecture students work Wednesday, July 11, 2018 on a historic restoration project in the Peale Center garden. (Brian Cassella / For The Baltimore Sun)
Just a handful of monuments that celebrate prominent African-Americans exist in Baltimore, a city so well known for its historic sites that it bears the moniker “The Monumental City.”
Dale Green, a professor of architecture and historic preservation at Morgan State University, blames the absence on the lack of African Americans in the architecture and historic preservation fields.
“The majority of those monuments [in Baltimore] don’t represent the true history and culture of this city,” Green said, noting the city does not have a monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was born in Maryland.
To correct this, Green has recruited six students from the university to join the school’s inaugural “Preservation in Practice” program. In partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service, the school launched the program this summer. The students — all architecture majors — have traveled to historic sites in Baltimore and Wyoming, studied alongside architecture experts and even learned to lay bricks — all in an effort to increase the number of African Americans in historic preservation, architecture and urban planning.
The group spent Tuesday morning crouched over new and old bricks at the Peale Center in downtown Baltimore. The 200-year-old property is billed as the oldest museum building in the country. After 20 years of dormancy, the building reopened as a cultural center in 2017.
“Historic preservation is important because we’re in an age where things are becoming less permanent,” said Akiel Allen, 25, a Morgan State junior and participant in the eight-week program. Allen and the other students recently returned from doing preservation work in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Allen said he serendipitously unearthed a collection of old horseshoes.
Twenty-three pieces of art have been added to the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, some from money from auction sales. Acquisitions include Amy Sherald's first painting since her portrait of Michelle Obama; Jack Whitten's "9.11.01"; and Isaac Julien's "Baltimore" video installation.
“Someone’s life was there,” Allen said. “Everything that meant something to them was there.”
As the Peale Center sat vacant for nearly 20 years, plants and grass overtook the original stone and brickwork in the outdoor courtyard. The students have spent the last several days pulling weeds, repairing weathered mortar in between the courtyard’s aging bricks, and re-laying bricks to restore the property to its original glory.
“I like connecting with people and making the actual property valuable and meaningful again,” said Monique Robinson, 22, a Morgan State junior.
Nancy Proctor, executive director of the Peale Center, thanked the students for their work, most of which was done in near-90 degree heat.
“You’ve shown us how this 200-year-old building is still relevant today,” Proctor said.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation enlisted its Hands-on Preservation Experience Crew to provide the students with firsthand experience in preserving historic resources such as sites and buildings.