There’s a benefit cocktail and dance party tonight at a vacant Calvert Street mansion, one of those storied residences with almost too many stories to tell. The nonprofit Baltimore Architecture Foundation is hosting the event, which recognizes Charles Carson, who designed this 1891 landmark.
The house stands at the southwest corner of Calvert and Biddle Street in Mount Vernon. From 1929 until 2016, it was the property of the Josephite Fathers, a Roman Catholic religious order founded to work with African-American schools and parishes. The order, founded in a London suburb, initially worked with persons of color and recently freed slaves.
For many years, Father Peter Hogan, his order’s archivist, maintained a sprawling collection of African-American history and resources in its basement.
The order’s administrative work here went little noticed. The building’s exterior had no religious symbols. The priests published their magazine, The Harvest, here. About 15 to 20 people worked at the order’s headquarters. The priests staffed three Baltimore parishes — St. Francis Xavier in East Baltimore, St. Peter Claver in West Baltimore and St. Veronica in Cherry Hill.
Revered as a "gentleman in the finest sense of the word, remarkable convert-maker and a friend of the benighted," Father Vincent Warren drove into rural Virginia one September night to share the word of God. He had no idea the treachery that awaited.
As part of a religious institution, the main floor had an institutional feel; the windows had plain Venetian blinds and much of the original dark paneling seemed overwhelmed by utilitarian office furniture. The priests and brothers needed the space the place provided — and bought two adjoining rowhouses.
But the bones of a grand mansion, constructed of Pompeian brick and chocolate-tone stone, were all there. The corner house was commissioned by Theodore Hooper, one of Baltimore’s wealthy citizens who made his fortune in the cotton duck business. His textile mills employed hundreds of hands in Woodberry. Described by The Sun as an “ardent Republican” — and the brother of Baltimore Mayor Alcaeus Hooper — he “was one of the few in Maryland who supported Lincoln in 1860.” After his death in 1906 and the mansion was sold, The Sun dryly noted, “The house is admired for its beauty.”
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It soon became the home of Miles White and his wife, Virginia Purviance Bonsal, whose taste and knowledge of American antiques established it as a social rendezvous and one of the Mount Vernon neighborhood’s most acclaimed addresses. It had competition. Just across the street, in what is now the Ivy Hotel, William Painter, president of the Crown Cork and Seal empire, also lived in high style in another Carson-designed urban castle.
The Hooper-White-Josephite house has its grand staircase and leaded-glass skylights. The substantial carriage house has its own dumbwaiter. There’s a scullery and a root cellar too. The fireplaces resemble something out of a bank president’s office.
Virginia White made 1128 N. Calvert her base of operations. She ruled the Baltimore Assembly, an elite annual dance, where The Sun reported, “She left nothing to chance. It was her boast that on the day of the dance [the Assembly] she personally inspected every terrapin that was to be served at the supper to make sure it came up to her exacting standards.”
Her children had other ambitions. Her son became ambassador to Mexico. Her nephew held the same post, in Colombia.
The Whites also outsmarted automaker Henry Ford, when he wanted to move Annapolis’ Hammond-Harwood House, brick-by-brick, to his reproduction museum Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. They bought the home. She also amassed a collection of Maryland Colonial-era silver (she was a founder of the Baltimore Museum of Art) and if she found an antique she liked, she bought it on the spot. “Such was her faith in judgement that she never failed to find a sponsor,” The Sun said of her buying habits.
Miles and Virginia White sold their Calvert Street residence to the Josephites through an attorney and decamped to a tract on Kerneway, just to the east of Loyola University Maryland. There she built her own brick manor house with an even larger set of garage-stables. Her former home, at 1128 Calvert, is now on the market for $1,295,000.