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Is Cab Calloway’s former Baltimore home a historic landmark? Not officially, preservation commission says.

Cab Calloway's former home is boarded up like much of the 2200 block of Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.
Cab Calloway's former home is boarded up like much of the 2200 block of Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Jazz legend Cab Calloway’s onetime home at 2216 Druid Hill Ave. moved closer to the wrecking ball, thanks to the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation’s decision to not pursue a historical designation landmark designation.

CHAP Executive Director Eric Holcomb announced the decision in an email to journalists.

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“Nevertheless, we would like to work with you to pursue other ways to honor and celebrate the Calloway legacy in Baltimore,” he wrote. “This could include designation of other structures that we believe would better celebrate this heritage.”

Holcomb sent the email Wednesday, nearly a month after a CHAP meeting where he cited research about Calloway’s grandfather Andrew J. Reed, a notable civil rights activist who once led the United Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty. At the time, Holcomb described the organization, which successfully fought to remove Maryland’s prohibition on black attorneys in 1885, as a forebear of the NAACP Legal Defense fund and similar groups. The commission then moved to look into Reed’s possible association with 2216 Druid Hill Ave.

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Holcomb’s email included a CHAP document, with extensive citations, detailing the various places where Calloway and his family, including Reed, lived. The document and email asserted that Reed was not affiliated with 2216 Druid Hill Ave.

The city and local Druid Heights Community Development Corporation originally planned to raze all of the 2200 block’s even-numbered houses and build a park, now named Cab Calloway Legends Park, after the singer and band leader knwon as The Hi De Ho Man.

Since at least June, a group of preservationists and Calloway’s descendants, led by grandson Peter Brooks, advocated to protect the house from the anticipated demolition. The conflict became increasingly acrimonious as each side accused the other of coercion and deceit. It also divided the Calloway family, with Cab’s daughter and Santa Fe resident Cabella Calloway Langasm writing a letter supporting the park in October.

“We are pleased with the findings of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation,” wrote Anthony Pressley, the CDC’s executive director, in an email Thursday.

“We are definitely moving forward with our plans to establish the Cab Calloway Legends Park,” he added. “The plans for the park fulfill the desires of the residents we serve. Our plans include the transformation of vacant dilapidated abandoned buildings and land into a beautiful, green defensible space where the legends from the community can be featured and families can gather for special events.”

Brooks said Thursday that he was disappointed in CHAP’s decision and confused about why Andrew J. Reed was a potentially more compelling a connection that his grandfather. He reiterated his belief that preserving the influential jazz musician’s legacy in Baltimore could help the predominantly black city.

“Andrew Reed believed in people working together, mutual brotherhood, working together for the good of all,” he said. “Cab Callaway stood for abundance, joy of life, making something great out of whatever is around you. All that is gone. We’re in the total opposite direction in this situation of scarcity, violence, selfishness and greed.”

Brooks, who also has publicly advocated for a local Indigenous Peoples’ Day designation, added that he’s trying to raise money for either the house or "some type of Pennsylvania Avenue legacy project,” referencing the nearby historic black creative corridor. He plans to do that by delivering presentations about his family’s story, which he connects to later cultural phenomena such as hip hop.

The city’s Department of Housing and Community Development has the authority to issue a permit for the house’s demolition. Spokesperson Tammy Hawley said that no such permits have been issued yet.

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