By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Aug 23, 2013 | 5:00 AM
The Calvert Court apartment house has stood at the southwest corner of North Calvert and 31st streets since 1915, and in recognition of its coming centenary, residents recently chose to honor its architect, Edward Hughes Glidden, with a plaque.
When it came to designing apartment houses, Glidden was a master, having designed some of the grandest in the city, such as the Washington Apartments in Mount Vernon Place, the Marlborough, the Homewood and the Tudor Arms.
The Homewood was Glidden's first foray into what is now Charles Village, which in those days was called Peabody Heights. It opened to residents in 1911.
He had a head for business and recognized that there would be plenty of need for apartments when the Johns Hopkins University was relocated from downtown to its new campus at Homewood. Also, streetcars rolled by on nearby St. Paul Street and along 31st, offering convenient transportation.
Glidden wrote a letter dated Jan. 16, 1915, outlining a proposal for Calvert Court to Eugene Levering, a businessman who had asked Glidden to design a building on property with a frontage of 202 feet.
"I therefore decided that if an apartment house were built of handsome design with a great open court, with a porch for each suite, with three bedrooms instead of two, and with a pantry for each kitchen, that we could obtain slightly more rental," he wrote. "Therefore, I figured on rentals from $600.00 to $800.00 per year."
He added that the building would be four stories high, erected in two main wings with a central court, and that "the construction throughout would be good in every way." He enclosed an itemized list of costs, which came to $91,683.50.
From that moment, things moved fast. A Baltimore Sun article two months later reported that the apartment house was rising on the site.
It "is a departure in some ways from the architecture usually embodied in such buildings in Baltimore," reported The Sun, which added that it would extend 202 feet on Calvert Street, where the main entrance would be located, and 123 feet on 31st Street.
Glidden told the newspaper that it would be the "largest of any apartment house in the city. Its architecture will be of the Italianesque style, the material will be of rough red brick, with stone and stucco trimmings and a Spanish-style roof," and it would be built by John F. Kunkel.
Another feature was that 24 apartments — out of a total of 32 units — would be two stories high, their floors connected by a stairway.
The apartments were spacious, with 9-foot ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and Georgia pine floors. Some of the apartments had solariums, and all handrails in public hallways were brass.
Painters were paid 25 cents an hour, while carpenters earned 18.75 cents to 40 cents an hour.
Each unit had a refrigerator that cost $18.10. The entire building, including the basement, was outfitted with special Lancaster Shades that were on spring rollers and "complete in every respect. ... The material is to be of the highest quality used for the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore and the Shoreham in Washington," according to records of the Calvert Court Co., which owns the building that has been a co-operative since 1947.
When completed by the fall of 1915, five attached buildings stood on the site in a U-shaped formation around a central court planted with trees, flowers and boxwood.
On a recent summer afternoon, Charles F. Ritter, a retired Notre Dame of Maryland University history professor, and Daniel Perrine, a retired Loyola University Maryland chemistry professor, sat in the courtyard.
"It is built at all right angles," said Perrine, who spearheaded the effort that resulted in the plaque to Glidden becoming a reality. "Ever see a pie-shaped closet? I have them."
It lives up to its whimsical reputation with arched windows and brick entranceways that have a European feel. Elaborate architectural details abound wherever the eye roams.
"It makes me think of Italy," said Perrine, who added that the building once had sleeping porches that were meant as an escape from Baltimore's infernal summers.
"They have now been enclosed, and they still have slanted floors," said Ritter, as he points out for a visitor the little pipes, no longer in use, that once drained off rainwater and melting snow.