Baltimore City Planner Lauren Schiszik detailed extensive structural damage to Cab Calloway’s former home, as well as several surrounding houses, at a meeting this week of the Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation.
The new report on the state of Calloway’s former home in the 2200 block of Druid Hill Ave. comes as Calloway’s grandson is facing off with city officials and neighborhood activists who want to raze the block and build a park, called Cab Calloway Square.
The grandson, Peter C. Brooks, argues the city should make the building a tourist attraction, similar to Elvis’s Graceland Mansion.
In a series of slides, Schiszik revealed numerous structural issues for every house on the block. She noted that the Calloway house lies within an area deemed historically significant by the National Register of Historic Places. That designation safeguards against immediate development but ultimately does not protect the properties from possible destruction by non-federal entities, CHAP Chairman Thomas Liebel later clarified.
Schizick added that the site visit and data from Housing and Community Development also pointed out structural issues with the block’s houses, which have been vacant for several decades. The property at 2216, like five others on the block, was determined to be “structurally unsound” and “unsafe for emergency personnel,” Schizick said. She also noted that the roof of 2216 showed “evidence of failing ceilings,” which suggested water damage. Photos from one of the slides also showed extensive deterioration and growth of weeds in the back of the house.
CHAP executive director Eric Holcomb noted that properties in worse condition than the Calloway house have been brought back with support from the city’s tax credit program.
Brooks, the most visible proponent of the house’s preservation, reiterated his hope that the city could transform it into a historical landmark or museum.
“I think there’s a huge range of opportunity there," he said, citing how the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York, and Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, bring tourism revenue and other historical preservation opportunities to those cities.
Druid Heights Community Development Corp. Executive Director Anthony Pressley and founder Jacquelyn Cornish spoke in favor of the plan to demolish the 2200 block to build Cab Calloway Square, a park that would incorporate the house’s facade and marble steps into its construction.
“We love Cab Calloway’s history, but let me just say: There was an agreement to [incorporate] this facade as a part of the park, and that’s where we’d like to continue,” Pressley said.
“We embrace that [legacy], but we want to recognize and [memorialize] our icons the right way, with the community’s interest at heart," Cornish said.
Woodberry neighborhood update
Also at the meeting, planner Caitlin Audette presented the next steps stemming from the controversial demolition of two pre-Civil War buildings in the Woodberry neighborhood. Audette said that the Woodberry Community Association is holding community events to reach more residents, in anticipation of a planned survey of property owners to determine neighborhood boundaries.