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Storehouses of memories may vanish


Buildings from bygone eras in beer-brewing and theater-going are among Baltimore's most endangered landmarks.

The American Brewery and the Hippodrome Theatre are two of 12 threatened properties on a new list compiled by Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group.

The five-story brew house at 1701 N. Gay St. is one of the area's most exuberant Victorian buildings. Wooden towers, ornate brickwork and a fanciful assortment of windows -- some of them stained glass -- combine to create a one-of-a-kind building that can be seen for blocks around East Baltimore.

Even though the brewery closed in 1973, its distinctive features make it a memorable monument to its German workers and to the brewing industry. But the building is vacant and deteriorating and seems to be threatened by fires every year.

The Hippodrome Theatre at 12 N. Eutaw St., one of Baltimore'slast movie palaces, is a victim of the trend toward suburban cineplexes. Built in 1914, it seated more than 3,000 people and drew some of the country's top vaudeville acts. Later, it was a magnet for downtown movie-goers, sending thousands of potential shoppers onto the street after matinees and evening shows.

Still characterized by its patterned brick facade, with a garland of decorative trim, the theater has been closed for three years. There no firm plans for renovations.

Also on the endangered list are the Southern Hotel at 7-11 Light St.;the vacant President Street train station at Fleet and President streets;The Block, which is the 400 block of E. Baltimore Street; the commercial buildings at Howard and Franklin streets; and Engine House No. 7 at 700 N. Eutaw St., which now shelters the homeless.

Rounding out the top 12 are St. James the Lesser Roman Catholic Church at Aisquith and Eager streets, the West Arlington Water Tower at Granada and Ridgewood avenues, Phipps Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the George Wells House and adjacent London Coffee House at Thames and Bond streets, and the wooden houses at 612-614 S. Wolfe St. in Fells Point.

Each site is depicted in a new poster entitled "Vanishing Perspectives." Baltimore Heritage created it as part of a continuing effort to call attention to the city's many historic buildings that are vacant, under-utilized or threatened with demolition.

"We wanted to bring these forgotten buildings to the public's attention again, before it's too late," said David H. Gleason, an architect and chairman of Baltimore Heritage's preservation planning committee. "If people don't see them and use them, there is a very real chance they could disappear from the landscape."

Some of the buildings are likely to vanish within a year. Others are stabilized now but lack plans for reuse.

"We chose buildings that have either lost their original use or are in danger of losing it," Mr. Gleason said. "Our intent was to say they ought to be saved and brought back to useful condition."

The list also underscores the various forces working against the preservation of historic buildings. The Southern Hotel at 7-11 Light St. lies in the path of proposed development, a 46-story office tower.

Other structures, such as the vacant commercial properties on Howard Street, are threatened because no one has any use for them.

"Mothballing" neglected buildings for future redevelopment -- boarding them up to prevent damage from vandals or the elements -- is one solution. Several landmarks exemplify that approach, including the Wells House, London Coffee House and President Street station.

But time after time, buildings such as the American Brewery are damaged either by malicious treatment or fires started by homeless people just trying to stay warm.

Baltimore Heritage members will unveil the poster, which doubles as a calendar and sells for $10, during a walking tour of Fells Point Sunday at 2 p.m. Beginning at the Coffee House, 854 S. Bond St., the tour is the first in a series of events that the group plans to focus attention on endangered landmarks.

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