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At the Enoch Pratt House, former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who happened to be taking the tour, is reflected in the Bonaparte mirror from the Patterson/Bonaparte family. The Pratt House was one of 61 buildings open for tours Saturday as part of an effort to showcase the best in architecture. Sarbanes said the whole project is "a terrific idea."
At the Enoch Pratt House, former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who happened to be taking the tour, is reflected in the Bonaparte mirror from the Patterson/Bonaparte family. The Pratt House was one of 61 buildings open for tours Saturday as part of an effort to showcase the best in architecture. Sarbanes said the whole project is "a terrific idea." (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Mike Mannes remembers back when 10 Light Street was the Maryland National Bank building and his company was doing business there. That was years ago, before its expansive, Gilded Age main lobby was turned into an Under Armour performance center, its upper 30-plus stories into luxury apartments.

On Saturday, Mannes, 75, could still envision in his mind's eye the loan officers whose desks lined the mezzanine, the tellers who counted out the money in the lobby, the members of the city's business elite who bustled in and out of the building's front doors. It was fun, he said, flashing back a few decades.

"They've done a beautiful job with this building," said Mannes, an attorney and native Baltimorean who lives in Mount Washington. "This is amazing."

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On Saturday, 61 buildings, dating from the 18th century to just a few years ago, were opened to the public for visits and tours. The occasion was the third annual Doors Open Baltimore, presented by the American Institute of Architects Baltimore and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation as a way of reintroducing Baltimoreans to some of the city's most distinctive buildings, many of which — like 10 Light Street — are not open to the public on a regular basis.

"It's a celebration of the city's architecture," said Nathan Dennies, communications manager for the architecture foundation, "a way to explore the city and to appreciate the built environment."

Anyone fascinated by local architecture and history should set aside time next Saturday for the free Open Doors Baltimore event, when the city's remarkable landmarks welcome visitors.

Participants were free to wander the city and visit as many sites as time would allow. Maps and tour pamphlets were available at the Maryland Historical Society, which served as the event's nexus. Many people walked from location to location, while others took advantage of public transportation, including light rail and the free Charm City Circulator.

Although the open buildings were spread throughout the city, as far north as Mount Washington's Baltimore Clayworks and as far south as Atwater's Big Kitchen in Morrell Park, the vast majority were within a 10-block radius of the historical society.

In fact, one of the most popular destinations was part of the society, the 1847 Enoch Pratt House, once home to the man who gave Baltimore its public library. Located on Monument Street adjacent to the society's headquarters, it is used mostly for storage and occasionally as a performance venue; last year, it was home to the theatrical "Mesmeric Revelations of Edgar Allan Poe" from March through May. Doors Open Baltimore gave the public a rare opportunity to peek inside.

"We came here on a field trip, I kind of remember this room," said Jennifer Green, 44, of Timonium, who visited as a young girl, when the historical society had its headquarters here. Only the first floor was open Saturday, and the rooms were mostly bare; most of the furniture is on display next door, at the society's museum. But Green and plenty of other visitors — more than 250 in the first hour, according to tour guide Scott Rubin, the historical society's visitor services manager — walked through the first-floor rooms, taking in the parlor's Corinthian columns and marble mantels, as well as a pair of massive gold mirrors.

The Pratt House was one of 61 buildings open for tours Saturday as part of an effort to showcase the best in architecture.
The Pratt House was one of 61 buildings open for tours Saturday as part of an effort to showcase the best in architecture. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

"It's strange; it's totally different, seeing it without furniture," said Green.

Vacant space was almost nowhere to be found at 10 Light Street, where visitors waited a half-hour or more to be taken in groups of 10 for an elevator ride to the building's 22nd-floor club room and terrace. Stepping outside, it was possible to see all the way south to the Key Bridge. Visitors also got to see some of the finer details of the 1929 Art Deco skyscraper, which opened as the Baltimore Trust Company Building and was once the tallest building on the East Coast outside New York. Imperial concrete eagles stare out from the building's upper facade.

"I've never had the opportunity to go into buildings like this before," said Sheilah Kalderon, 69, of Owings Mills. "This was great."

Not all the sites were so crowded, but that didn't make them any less fascinating. At 404 N. Howard, in a building from the early 1900s that once housed the Strand movie theater, Carly Bales was giving tours. She and others are turning the building, which had been home for some 50 years to a clothing store called Uniform City, into a performance space to be called Le Mondo. They hope to have it open in March.

"I thought it was a good opportunity to get people into the neighborhood, get people into this space who might not come down here on a normal day," said Bales, 30, who does performance art and theater. By midafternoon, she guessed about 35 people had stopped by for a tour.

They included Noe Kains, 31, an astronomer living in Mount Vernon. "It's so great," he said, "to see these buildings come back to life."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskaltsun

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