Baltimore City

A bold rebuild brightens Howard Street, once a bustling downtown shopping destination

There’s a transformation in progress along Howard Street that should warm the hearts of anyone who knew this neighborhood as a bustling downtown shopping destination.

A $10 million restoration of the old Pollack’s furniture showroom is now in its seventh month of a painstaking refurbishment. It has been renamed Crook Horner Lofts, a reference to the old plumbing supply house that did business in the 1890 structure.


The building is becoming 15 units of expansive loft-work apartments.

With 14-foot high ceilings and dramatically arched windows in some flats, this building references the days when it served as Pollack’s furniture and rugs retail store — after the bathtub and pipe seller moved on.


By the summer this corner structure at Howard and Saratoga will emerge as a catalyst to stimulate Howard Street’s slow reemergence from decades of closings and vacancy.

Alan Bell, a New York developer is investing $10 million into turning the former Pollack furniture into large rental apartments.

And while it lacks a swimming pool or athletic center, this development is a gigantic window into old Baltimore.

The views from the expansive windows on its upper floors capture vistas of the city’s warmly remembered, but now closed department stores and other downtown landmarks.

New replacement windows (fabricated to replicate the 1890 originals) reveal the towers of the Basilica of the Assumption. Others look right into the former Hutzler’s fashion departments. The old banking houses constructed of massive stone and decorated with carved Classical ornamentation become intimate neighbors.

Crook Horner Lofts is an architectural voyeur’s penthouse.

New York developer Alan Bell bought the building at the end of 2019. The coronavirus pandemic hiatus slowed the project, which is now humming.

“It’s adventurous,” Bell said of this endeavor. “I lived through New York in the 1970s and 1980s when the city was really the pits. And Baltimore is a difficult place today, but I’ve also seen how things can change. You can’t be in the real estate development business without being an optimist.

“I want to stir things up on that corridor,” he said of Howard Street, which fell into decay after the big department stores shuttered 30 years ago and the city focused its redevelopment attention along the harbor.


Bell hired Mount Vernon’s SM&P Architects to transform a structure that roughly sits between Lexington Market and the old Marconi’s restaurant.

“Howard Street needs state financial assistance to bring it back to life,” Bell said. “Activating corridors like Howard Street and their ground floor retail spaces is the path to reducing crime and a secure feeling. Young people have to see that somebody cares about where they live.”

Bell said he has converted loft style buildings, similar to his Howard Street project, in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. He also constructed affordable housing, homeless housing and market rate apartments in Queens, the South Bronx and Brooklyn.

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He said he’s confident that prospective tenants will like what they find here.

“There are no small units,” he said. “There’s only two per floor. These are large open spaces where you can live and do business. There are no partitions except for the baths.”

The rents will range from $1,700 a month to $3,300 for the top floor.


This is not a place for people who are scared by downtown city living. It does not overlook the harbor. Light rail trains pass ever so often and graffiti taggers seem to own the walls nearby.

“I’m bringing a dramatic space to Baltimore,” Bell said. “It’s a spot you won’t have seen before. With the right investment and leadership, the city’s beautiful infrastructure of architecture will come into its own.”

Warren E. Wunder Jr. is heading therestoration, which is being done according to federal preservation guidelines.

“I found an 1801 halfpenny in an old privy that served another, much older building that sat on this site,” Wunder said. “It’s good luck.”