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Restyled Loyola mansion takes past into future as Humanities Center

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For decades, the most prominent building on the campus of Loyola College in Maryland was also the most private.

A sprawling Tudoresque mansion, built in 1896 for ill-fated honeymooners Horatio and Charlotte Garrett, made an ideal anchor for the college's academic quadrangle. But because it was a residence for Jesuit priests between 1924 and 1992, much of it was off-limits to the community at large.

This year, the Loyola landmark has a new function that better suits its grandeur and central location. After a $6 million conversion and expansion, it has become the college's Humanities Center, home of 16 departments previously scattered across the campus at Charles Street and Cold Spring Lane.

Designed by Frank Gant Architects, the project has transformed a little-known gem of Baltimore architecture into the focal point of a campus that very much needed one. It also provides a good example of Mr. Gant's prodigious talent for resuscitating older buildings and adapting them for new uses.

"I think the Garretts would be happy to know this is now a public building," he said after a recent tour. "It's finally found a home."

The building that houses Loyola's Humanities Center was constructed as a honeymoon "cottage" for Horatio Whitridge Garrett and his bride, Charlotte.

A grandson of B&O; Railroad magnate John Work Garrett, Horatio was raised at Evergreen, the Victorian estate at 4545 N. Charles St. Just before the marriage, Horatio's widowed mother commissioned the New York firm of Renwick, Aspinwall and Renwick to design a residence for the newlyweds on a knoll just south of Evergreen. Dubbed Evergreen Junior, it was built at a cost of $85,000, with Eastern granite used to enclose the first story, Georgian pine for the second, cedar shingles for the roof, and Pompeian brick for the tall chimneys.

The designers spared no expense inside, creating large reception rooms featuring Jacobean paneling, and massive doors ornamented with stained glass and wrought iron. Bathtubs were nearly as large as swimming pools, and the attic contained a billiard room.

But less than a year after his marriage, at the age of 23, Horatio Garrett developed a rare form of leg cancer. He died in October of 1896, before the honeymoon cottage was ready to occupy. The Garretts left it empty for years, then lent it for use as an infirmary for servicemen blinded in World War I.

In 1921 the Garretts sold the house and 20 surrounding acres to the Jesuits who ran Loyola so they could build a new campus to replace their cramped quarters on Calvert Street. From 1921 to 1924, the house was used as teaching space. As soon as other academic buildings were constructed nearby, it became a residence for the priests.

At one point, 130 priests lived in the building, known as Jesuit House. But by the early 1990s the number had dropped below 30 -- too few to use it efficiently. "We were rattling around in there," recalled Father Thomas Fitzgerald. "It was better for the college to use the building than for us to squander the space."

College administrators, meanwhile, wanted to consolidate academic and administrative offices on the quadrangle, while providing more space for classrooms and conference areas. In particular, they wanted new faculty offices for the College of Arts and Sciences.

To accomplish their objectives, the administrators hit upon the idea of a swap. They would convert a smaller building on the edge of campus, Millbrook House, to a residence for the priests. That would free up Jesuit House to become the Humanities Center.

True to the spirit

Mr. Gant's first task at Loyola was to redesign Millbrook House. It opened in 1992 and is now called Ignatius House.

Jesuit House was more of a challenge because the college wanted to move so many departments there, among them admissions, development, alumni relations, publications, financial aid and graduate services. The college also planned to put the history, theology, philosophy and English departments there.

Mr. Gant's solution was to restore the 40,000-square-foot main building and then add another 30,000 square feet of space to the east, a side not visible from the main quadrangle.

The mansion had already been expanded twice, in 1939 and 1958, but this was to be the largest and most expensive addition of all. The architect's goal was to stay true to the spirit of the original building without copying it.

"We wanted to be respectful of and in context with what's here," he said. "But we also tried to make it clear this was a new building."

The architect's sensitivity is evident from the front door on in. The main change to the front facade was the introduction of a porch-like lobby that connects part of the 1896 building with the 1958 addition. The result is so seamless it's practically (x impossible to tell where the original stops and the addition begins.

Inside the cottage, Mr. Gant capitalized on the Garretts' investment by using the commodious first-level spaces to serve the biggest crowds. He created a faculty dining room and kitchen, conference rooms, a lounge and a briefing center for the admissions office. He also persuaded the college to order Stickley furniture for many of the spaces, since its simple wooden lines neatly reinforce the first floor's collegiate atmosphere.

These public spaces seem particularly appropriate for Loyola because they reflect the tone of the campus so well. They aren't ostentatious, but they are high in quality. They exude warmth, domesticity, civility. Above all, they evoke an era when educators tried to instill in their charges a deep appreciation for the arts and humanities -- something Loyola still tries to do.

On the upper floors, the architects removed walls that previously defined the priests' cubicles to create larger classrooms and conference areas. They also added an elevator and air conditioning and sprinkler systems, all without detracting from the building's character or altering the roofline.

"It's a '90s building," Mr. Gant said. "All the computer links, all the data lines, were snaked in. But I tried to leave it alone as much as possible, out of respect for what was here. I just tried to clean it up and make it usable again."

Ego in check

Mr. Gant showed the same reverence for the original building when he created the east-side addition. He kept it slightly lower than the rest of the center, and created forms that echo the gabled forms of the original. He used cream-colored stucco walls, similar to those on the 1939 addition. On the interior, he selected finishes that are a continuation of finishes elsewhere.

To be sure, Mr. Gant took some design risks. He created a turret that recalls one on the front of the cottage. He introduced a sculptural downspout made from a giant link of chain. He created a sheltered courtyard where employees can take a break outdoors and a public space where students can gather before and after athletic events at Curley Field.

But for the most part, Mr. Gant kept his ego in check and let the older building remain the dominant element in the composition. In a sense, he was so careful about not upstaging the original that he hesitated to put much of a design fingerprint on the addition at all. He purposely did not attempt to repeat the half-timber surface ornamentation.

As a result, the exterior of the addition looks somewhat more stark and abstract than the rest of the complex, and it suffers a bit by comparison. The absence of timbers on its surface underscores how much the half-timber design helped pull together the 1896 and subsequent designs, and how important surface ornamentation is to the Tudor style.

Mr. Gant said he didn't try to mimic the surface decoration of the original because he was afraid today's contractors wouldn't be able to replicate 1890s details successfully and still stay within the college's budget. The last thing he wanted, he said, was an addition that looked like the International House of Pancakes.

"There's a fine line you cross when you're working with such a prominent building, one that has such articulation and style and rhythm," he said. "I wanted to speak to the old building. I wanted to say that we're not that different. But I didn't want all the gingerbread. I didn't want the addition to be louder than the original. I wanted it to be softer."

The Humanities Center is just one in a series of building projects that Loyola plans to complete over the next few years. Still to come are a student union, dorms and more administrative space.

But no other project is likely to compare with the splendor of the Humanities Center. As a result of Loyola's foresight and Mr. Gant's resourcefulness, Evergreen Junior has finally come alive with the kind of activity Mrs. Garrett envisioned 99 years ago -- not from one set of young people, but from hundreds.

"The purpose of humanities is to hand the past to the future," Provost Thomas E. Scheye said before the renovations began. For generations to come, Loyola's new Humanities Center promises to do just that.

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