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Masons' plan for new temple questioned in Bolton Hill


Should a building designed in 1986 receive a building permit in 1992? Or have tastes and philosophies about architecture changed so much in six years that the plans need to be updated?

Those questions have stymied a Masonic organization seeking city permission to build a new temple on one of the Bolton Hill historic district's last large development parcels.

Members of the Most Worshipful Hiram Grand Lodge AF&AM; Inc., an organization with 1,500 members, received approval in 1986 to construct a $3.2 million headquarters in the 1200 block of Eutaw Place. But its financing with Old Court Savings & Loan Association collapsed when Old Court failed.

The Masons have a new financing plan and again are poised to start the building. They broke ground ceremonially Dec. 7.

But city officials say so much time has elapsed that the Masons must get a new permit to build. As part of that process, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation is seeking community comments by Friday.

The design also has received scrutiny from the Mount Royal Improvement Association's architectural review board, who say 1986's design may be inappropriate for 1992.

"We're very happy that they're finally able to build on that lot, because many of us feel that an open space is not one of the best uses of land in a residential neighborhood," said Romaine Somerville, the improvement association's president.

Said Gary Anderson, a review board member: "Changes have taken place in the neighborhood, and attitudes about architecture have changed since the building was designed. There's more public awareness about the need to have buildings that are compatible with their surroundings."

Designed for the Masonic order and its female affiliate, the Naomi Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, the proposed Masonic temple would rise three stories just north of the existing Hiram Grand Lodge at 1205 Eutaw Place.

Plans by Eugene Hentley and Associates of Atlanta call for an arched entrance, flat brick walls and few windows, because meetings are secret. Inside, members say, the floor plan would be based on that of the biblical temple of Solomon.

Grand Master John V. Thornton said his organization is determined to start and is happy to comply with wishes of the city and neighborhood. But he can't understand why, if it hasn't changed, a design that received city approval once has to be reviewed again.

"We have no objection to them reviewing it, as long as they don't want to make any more changes," he said. "We made changes in the 1980s to the facade of the building, in response to their suggestions.

"We have documents to indicate that CHAP did approve it, as well as the [Housing Department's] Design Advisory Panel and the neighborhood. The only thing that stopped us is Old Court."

Kathleen Kotarba, CHAP's executive director, said the city never officially issued a building permit in 1986 although it did issue a "notice to proceed."

Bill Toohey, a Housing Department spokesman, said city law requires the review process because construction did not begin within six months of when the permit was issued.

Members of the neighborhood's review board say they are concerned that the building's exterior be compatible with the neighborhood and have a "pedestrian-friendly" scale and texture. They say its large size and "decidedly commercial and suburban look" will stand in stark contrast with the rusticated stone and brick buildings around it. They say they believe a more "contextual" approach would be better now.

"I understand there are new people on CHAP and new people in the Mount Royal Improvement Association," said Mr. Thornton. "I believe it's only fair to let them review it. But if they want to make changes, we'll have to wait and see. We pray they will not. We pray they have been informed that it has already been approved and will not ask for any changes."

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