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Highlandtown trolley barn converting to apartments


For 33 years, Charles O. Hacker was a motorman and conductor for Baltimore's streetcars, stationed part of the time on the "26" line operating from the old trolley car barn at Lombard and Grundy streets in Highlandtown.

The one-, two- and three-car trains that were based there, known as "Red Rockets," have been out of commission since the 1950s, when they were replaced by buses.

Starting next year, Mr. Hacker and his wife, Ruth, will take up residence inside the car barn, which is being converted to cooperative apartments for seniors.

"We hope to be among the first residents, but I have one problem," he confessed at a groundbreaking ceremony last week. "I'm scared to death I might wake up at 2 o'clock in the morning and want to take a two-car train to Sparrows Point!"

The Hackers are among more than 150 people who have signed up to move into the Highlandtown Cooperative Apartments, a $6.7 million complex scheduled to open by mid-1996.

Cooperative Services Inc. of Oak Park, Mich., is developing the 74-unit project, its first in Baltimore. It has two others in Baltimore County. Funding partners include the state of Maryland; the city of Baltimore; Enterprise Social Investment Corp.; and Nations Housing Fund, an affiliate of NationsBank.

Built in 1901, Highlandtown's trolley car barn was where trains on the "26" line were cleaned, repaired and stored overnight. It is one of more than a dozen such structures in Baltimore; fewer than half a dozen still stand.

The Lombard Street building is one block long and half a block wide, with reinforced concrete walls 3 1/2 feet thick.

After buses replaced streetcars, the trolley barn became a warehouse for various goods, including canned food, pickles, pig iron and aluminum ingots.

The conversion was designed by The Architectural Team of Chelsea, Mass. General contractor is Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse.

Architect Robert Verrier said the building was a good candidate for adaptive reuse because it was structurally sound but underused and a physical barrier within the community. "For all these years, it's been the Berlin Wall of this neighborhood," he said. "It was an opportunity to do some creative design."

To make the building suitable for living, the contractor is cutting windows in its sides and carving out part of the roof to create three courtyards open to the sky. Three sides of the building will be clad to resemble brick rowhouses from the turn of the century.

Community leaders like the plan.

Many of the residents "are going to be living in an area where they grew up, got married and had children -- where many of their friends have been living," said Nick Bassetti, president of the Highlandtown Community Association. "They're going to be living where it's safe."

Trolley-themed artwork will decorate the front lobby, including drawings by Mr. Hacker. Although he has agreed to be president of the residents' board until the building is occupied, he still has trouble getting used to the idea that he will soon live where he once worked.

"If anyone had told me 49 years ago I would be trying to get in here to live," he quipped, "I would have said they belong on a funny farm."

B&O; bidders

Top-rated transportation and museum planners from around the nation are vying to develop a master plan that will help turn the B&O; Railroad Museum in West Baltimore into the Williamsburg, Va., of railroading.

Museum staffers received numerous bids from groups interested in preparing development guidelines for the 40-acre property at 901 W. Pratt St. The project will be helped by a $160,000 state grant.

The contenders include groups headed by Cambridge Seven Associates; Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut; Einhorn Yaffee Prescott; Notter & Associates with Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet; Mesick Cohen Waite, and Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum with Design Collective.

Also, Cho, Wilks and Benn; Grieves Worrall Wright & O'Hatnick; Harrison and Crain; Kelly Clayton & Mojzisek; Kieran, Timberlake & Harris, Larrabee Associates; Murphy & Dittenhafer; Quinn Evans; Richter Cornbrooks Gribble with Lord Cultural Resources; Harry Weese Associates; and Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall.

A decision is expected soon.

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