New life for old mansion

For 15 years, the Gallagher Mansion has been a blight on the York Road corridor -- a vacant building that looks like a haunted house year-round.

City officials, who control the mansion, have done their best to keep it standing, in the hope that a private developer would come along and restore it. Seven years ago, they awarded it to a developer who wanted to turn it into offices, but he never moved ahead with his plan.


Now a new group has emerged that may finally be able to bring the imposing Italianate structure to life. The Govans Ecumenical vTC Development Corp., a nonprofit partnership of eight churches and two community groups working to provide affordable housing along York Road, recently offered to acquire the mansion from the city. The partnership wants to make it the centerpiece of a $2.5 million, 40-unit apartment complex for the elderly.

The group's plans call for the mansion to be recycled to house six upper-level apartments, with public spaces for the residents on the main floor below. Another 34 one-bedroom apartments would be created in a three-story addition that would rise south of the building at 431 Notre Dame Lane.


Govans Ecumenical submitted a proposal to redevelop the mansion and surrounding 2.2 acres several months ago. City housing officials sought competing bids, setting yesterday as the deadline, and received no responses.

In advertising for bidders, city officials stated that they had an acceptable proposal in hand -- a strong indication that the Schmoke administration will award the property to Govans Ecumenical if the group can obtain the money to build the apartments.

Executive Director Julia Pierson said members of the development corporation have wanted to fix up the building for years: "It's the last major blighting influence on the York Road corridor."

The surrounding land offers room enough to build an addition that can make the complex economically viable, she added. "We think this is a good solution for the mansion, and we get to do more housing."

The stone mansion is significant because it is "one of the few intact 19th-century country houses remaining in Baltimore" and "recalls a time when Govanstown was a thriving suburban village surrounded by country estates," according to Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Built starting around 1855 for a doctor named Benjamin Woods, the structure was altered with the addition of a mansard roof and a porch in 1857. It was purchased in 1873 by a wealthy grocer, Patrick Gallagher, and remained in the family for almost 100 years.

Baltimore acquired the building in the 1980s from the now-defunct Sherwood Ford car dealership. Visible from the 5100 block of York Road, the building is on the city landmark list and the National Register of Historic Places. A chandelier from its foyer hangs in the Peale Museum.

The housing corporation was formed a year ago, but member churches previously completed two other housing projects on their own: Epiphany House, a 33-unit residence inside the old Govanstown Hotel on York Road, and Ascension Home, three smaller "group homes" on scattered sites.


The organization is seeking funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and hopes to hear about its request by October. Harry Hess of Smeallie Orrick & Janka in Baltimore would be the lead architect, and James T. Wollen Jr. of Havre de Grace would be the preservation consultant.

If all goes as planned, Ms. Pierson said, construction would begin next year. She noted that the building's north wall is caving in because of water damage and must be stabilized before another winter. The group will work with the Maryland Historical Trust to find the approximately $20,000 needed for that repair work, she said. Before recessing for the summer, the Baltimore City Council approved legislation that would allow Allied Signal's former chrome-processing site downtown to be redeveloped as a mixed-use community.

The company, which controls 27.3 acres at Block and Wills streets, is still waiting to hear whether state and federal officials will approve its conceptual design for a "containment cap" over the contaminated site.