Old Penney's building to get new but familiar look


The building without a face will soon have one, with a nod from the Westminster Historic Commission.

As part of its transformation to office space, the old J. C. Penney building at West Main and Bond streets will get a new facade reproducing the Flemish-style masonry of the original, said David Max, owner and developer.

"I decided it won't hurt to try to do something reasonable that would make everyone happy," Mr. Max said. "Hopefully, the end product will be more attractive and more in keeping with the architectural style."

The Flemish bond in masonry means every other brick is turned 90 degrees, so that a line will have long sides and short sides alternating.

"It looks like a basket-weave pattern," said architect Dean Camlin, chairman of the Historic Commission. Mr. Camlin and two other commission members voted Friday to endorse Mr. Max's revised plans.

The building, which Mr. Max estimates is about 53 years old, is in the middle of renovations, with a plywood mask covering its front. The original Flemish masonry in the facade is so badly damaged by nail holes that it must be torn down, Mr. Max said.

When he bought the building in September, he said, he didn't know what to expect when he had workers peel off the porcelain-enameled steel tiles that covered the facade. The green and cream tiles, it turned out, were attached to wooden pieces nailed to the brick.

Once the tiles came off and the Flemish-bond masonry was revealed, the Historic Commission wanted to preserve it. Mr. Max wanted to tear down the heavily damaged brick and rebuild the facade, but in a standard masonry style, not Flemish.

As a compromise, he agreed to replicate the style. He said it would cost "a couple thousand" more in an approximately $750,000 project.

Mr. Max found out after he had applied to the Historic Commission that he didn't need its approval. He had thought he did because he is applying for a low-interest state revitalization loan for the project.

The building is not in a locally zoned historic district, Mr. Camlin said, though it is in what is classified a national registered district.

Mr. Max will need approval from the Maryland Historic Trust, however. The local commission's approval and his willingness to work with it could count for something with the state, the developer said.

"It won't hurt," Mr. Max said. "I don't know if it will help."

He applied for $160,000 from the state, he said, and an answer could come in a few weeks.

The 16,500-square foot building will be called Winchester West. Max Realty also owns Winchester Exchange two blocks away on East Main Street.

He has tenants ready to move in June 1: Diversified Blueprint, FTC Channel 19, and the housing and finance offices of the city of Westminster.

"I have to open the building June 1," Mr. Max said, state loan or no state loan. "I still have to do it. I can't stop now."

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