Responding to the nationwide surge in heritage tourism, the owners of Baltimore's oldest "urban" residence are planning to open a visitors center next door for the Fells Point and Federal Hill neighborhoods.
The preservation society that owns the Robert Long House, a restored 1765 residence open for public tours at 812 S. Ann St., recently acquired a narrow brick building that dates from 1775.
The group plans to convert the one-story building at 808 S. Ann St. into an orientation center for the Long house as well as a visitors center for the surrounding area.
The project would be the first visitors center created to showcase Baltimore's historic waterfront communities, and would complement a visitors center planned for the western shore of the Inner Harbor.
The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point has operated the Long house since 1985 and is seeking $350,000 to $400,000 to complete the expansion. The projected opening date is 1997, the 200th anniversary of Baltimore's incorporation.
Kathleen Ward, past president of the society, sees the annex as a potential "gateway" to Fells Point and Federal Hill.
"On any given day, you can see hundreds of people getting off the water taxi and going to the bars and restaurants of Fells Point," she said. "But many of them may not know much about the area itself. We want people to have a better understanding of its maritime history and the historic preservation activity that has taken place."
The society's president, Ginger Mudd Galvez, said she believes visitors come to historic districts such as Fells Point because "they feel the draw of the neighborhood.
"They like the scale of the buildings and the intactness of the area," she said. "They're responding on a level that's almost subconscious. Our vision is to help them understand what they're responding to.
"Particularly in Fells Point," she continued, "there's such a rich social history in terms of the people who came through over the years. There's a wonderful story to tell."
Established in 1967 to fight a proposed interstate highway that would have cut through Fells Point and Federal Hill, the society provides design review services for the two neighborhoods and sponsors events such as the Fells Point Fun Festival and last weekend's Historic Harbor House Tour.
The Long house, besides being the oldest surviving urban residence in Baltimore, is considered one of the best local examples of a restored, working-class residence from the 18th century.
The society's executive director, Romaine Somerville, said it has been attempting to acquire 808 S. Ann St. since 1988 and settled on it several months ago. She said it cost $60,000 and was purchased with the help of a $20,000 bequest from the estate of Mabel Krause, a local benefactor, and a loan from NationsBank.
City records show that the building was constructed on land belonging to Robert Long, who owned a four-story warehouse on the Fells Point waterfront as well as the Ann Street house.
"It looks like a garage, but in reality it's an 18th-century house that had its second story removed in the 1930s, when it was turned into a warehouse," Mrs. Somerville said.
Members of the society have begun planning how to recycle the building. Their goals include providing restroom facilities that are accessible to the disabled; installing exhibits about Baltimore's waterfront communities; and providing a gathering space for school groups and people who arrive on tour buses.
Eventually, Mrs. Somerville said, the group would like to open another visitors center in Federal Hill.
Historic tax credits; modern house tour
A proposal to offer tax credits for rehabilitation of historic properties in Baltimore will be discussed at a public meeting at the Maryland Institute's Mount Royal Station Auditorium, Cathedral Street and Mount Royal Avenue, on Wednesday at 7 " p.m.
Modern houses by architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Mark Beck and Alexander Cochran will be featured Saturday in a public tour at 1 p.m. at the Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St. Information: 516-0341.