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Baltimore City

How a Station North funeral home became The Parlor, a hub for local artists

A big old house at 108 W. North Ave. has a new name and identity.

The place is becoming a gallery-style living room for local artists who have spent the past week installing their works within this cavernous, at times both lugubrious and theatrical Victorian interior.

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“The building itself is a ready-made work of art,” curator Catherine Borg said. “The artworks presented in the exhibition are gathered to acknowledge and celebrate the building’s past and its future.”

The Parlor’s owner, John Renner, described his vision as an “affordable creative hub for art and artists in the Station North Arts District.”

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After necessary upgrades for heating, electrical and plumbing are completed, Renner plans to make the home a space for Baltimore’s creative community — seven studios plus office space.

In the future, he also envisions a speakeasy bar and restaurant with access to Graffiti Alley, otherwise known on maps as 19 1/2 Street. This small street showcases some of Baltimore’s most exuberant and ever-changing graffiti.

“I’ve always loved alleys and grew up playing on Maynadier Lane off Coldspring,” said Renner, a real estate developer and urban planning student who lives in Lauraville. “I was inspired to buy the building because of the alley.”

Renner paid $432,000 earlier this year for this substantial rowhouse, which included the trappings of the undertaker’s art ― a hand operated, counterbalance casket elevator, embalming room, hearse garage and corpse refrigerator units. Renner has named the project “the Parlor,” a reference to its past 108 years as a working mortuary.

Catherine Borg, will curate Memento mori, a pop up art exhibit in the old Stewart and Mowen funeral home at 108 West North Ave. Borg holds a Remembering The Stains on The Sidewalk, a book by Amy Berbert Vu that will be on display. There are plans for the building to house artist studios on the second floor and a restaurant and bar on the first floor.

A set of gilded organ pipes and stained glass panels with lily flower insets suggest the dignified bereavement atmosphere of another era. It’s the kind of interior that could make a visitor gasp or laugh, or perhaps both.

“My goals is to put an active business on Graffiti Alley and link the positive energy of Korea Town, Old Goucher and Station North,” Renner said. “I also want to create a really affordable artist space in the heart of Station North.

“I see some future restaurant operator here could take inspiration from the prior use and have a Ouija Board night,” he said. “Baltimore’s weirdness is worth celebrating.”

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The house, designed by Baltimore architect Charles Cassell, is one of several along the street. Its longest tenant was Samuel Hyde, a Connecticut-born farmer who came to Baltimore to grow and can corn. When he died in 1910, The Sun said his Hyde’s Egyptian Sugar Corn was famous throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

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He was so successful the railroad named a Baltimore County station after him — Hyde’s. He also could catch a Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad train just steps away, at what is today North Avenue and Howard Street to reach his farm fields.

When Hyde’s heirs sold the house, it ceased being a private home and was enlarged in 1914 as a funeral home. It served morticians Stewart and Mowen for decades and was last operated by funeral director Ronald Taylor II.

“Baltimore is a cool place and is authentically cool,” said Jack Danna of the Central Baltimore Partnership. “And Graffiti Alley builds off the DIY culture of what makes Station North a premiere arts district.”

The Parlor will host an inaugural exhibit, Memento mori, (”Remember you must die”) features the work of Baltimore artists Amy Berbert Vu, Antonio McAfee, Bao Nguyen, Carrie Fucile and Brenton Lim, Dina Fiasconaro, Edgar Reyes, Jill Fannon, Lynn Silverman, Michele Blu, Stephen Hendee and Webster Phillips.

The exhibition will benefit the North Avenue charity, Roberta’s House, a nonprofit that provides care programs to support children and families who are grieving a natural or traumatic death.

The exhibition opens at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and will run through December 17.


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