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Peeking inside the 1870 Waverly Hall as the old town hall is renovated

Freddy Hernandez, left, and his brother, Orlando Hernandez, right, carpenters with Edgemont Builders, work on ladders on the second floor of the Waverly Town Hall, an apartment and commercial development taking shape at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street in Waverly. This space will become a one bedroom apartment.
Freddy Hernandez, left, and his brother, Orlando Hernandez, right, carpenters with Edgemont Builders, work on ladders on the second floor of the Waverly Town Hall, an apartment and commercial development taking shape at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street in Waverly. This space will become a one bedroom apartment. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

The old Waverly Hall began revealing some of its historic and structural secrets this week as a crew of workers arrived and got busy on a century-plus of additions, cover-ups, rusty pipes and mildewed plasterboard.

New lumber arrived as dumpsters were being filled with all the stuff that had been added (and little subtracted) to what was once the center of politics and learning, communication and healing when Waverly was an independent village in Baltimore County.

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The 1870 Waverly Hall, also called a town hall, sits at the intersection of Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street. It was built on a fairly grand scale and is visible from the upper floors of apartment houses and condominiums along University Parkway. It’s not as tall as the steeple on its nearest noteworthy neighbor, St. John’s Episcopal Church. It seems about as high as the old Boulevard movie theater two blocks north on Greenmount Avenue.

Builder Jake Wittenberg and his business partner, Ted Rouse, led a dusty trip through the structure as its stands just now, with much of its 1930s and 1940s structural accretions removed. The windows are gone too. It’s a temporary mess and looks like an old cellar mixed with a forgotten attic.

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What is revealed is a second-floor chamber with a high ceiling, trussed with old-growth timber, where the hall’s political and social gatherings once were held. Leading to it is an unusually broad staircase, too wide for the apartments that filled the building’s upper floors for so many years.

The stairs, more typical of a church, indicate that this was a place where Waverly residents gathered and debated whether they’d get fancy infrastructure treatments — gas street lighting and granite curbing on sidewalks.

The building’s large windows, which will be restored to their original dimensions, are in keeping with a pre-electric-light structure that relied on natural sunlight for daytime illumination.

The old hall mixes in well with the Victorian cottages along East 31st Street. Curiously, some of them retain their Waverly village street numbers, which do not conform to the standard Baltimore City street grid.

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Over the years the hall housed an early public school administered by Baltimore County and a library.

The first floor was a workhorse for businesses — the village post office and pharmacy. A painted wall sign for “prescriptions” has survived somehow.

In later years there was a restaurant (Forney’s) and later a tavern called the Northside. The hall even had a medical practice — Dr. Joseph Jameson’s dental rooms, no appointments necessary.

The years have erased any trace of tobacco smell here, though the building once housed a busy cigar factory whose cigars carried the brand name Waverly.

The old hall will return through the work of the Central Baltimore Future Fund with the support of State of Maryland. The Future Fund centers its attention from Oakenshawe to Greenmount West and paid $414,000 for three contiguous vacant properties in 2018, including the hall.

The hall also has a newer 1920s annex, a brick structure facing 31st Street. For many years it served the Kelly brothers’ grocery (no relation) with provisions delivered through Waverly and Charles Village.

The recent gutting and interior demolition is part of the current restoration-construction budget of $1.5 million to create seven new apartments and five new retail spaces.

Neighborhood groups, Better Waverly, Abell and Waverly Main Street, sought this restoration of what had been a vacant structure with a significant, if not so well known, social history.

“We’re working in a tight, landlocked site,” said Wittenberg, the builder, who is also a member of Waverly Main Street. “Our neighbors have been great and understand and appreciate what we’re doing. We’ve had a ton a support and well wishes from the other merchants on the street.”

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