Former bus garage to travel back 300 years


For nearly half a century, the vacant Greyhound Corp. bus garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street in Baltimore served Marylanders traveling from coast to coast.

Soon it will foster travels of a different sort -- journeys over time rather than terrain.

In October, the Maryland Historical Society will begin converting the Art Moderne building to a museum annex showcasing "300 Years of Maryland History." The conversion will be the first phase of a $10 million to $20 million effort by society directors to broaden the offerings of the 151-year-old institution.

A preliminary master plan will be on display today when the society holds its annual meeting at 5 p.m. At that meeting, executive director Dennis Fiori will outline goals for the next five years.

One of those goals is to display more of the society's vast collection artifacts, including ceramics, silver, and furniture. "We want to figure out how to reuse our space to get as much of the collection into public view as possible," Mr. Fiori said.

As designed by Grieves, Worrall, Wright and O'Hatnick of Baltimore, the project involves renovation of society buildings as well as new construction and adaptive reuse of the bus garage. The construction timetable will depend on the society's ability to raise approximately $10 million for capital improvements and another $10 million for upkeep.

Ohio consultant Charles Bentz has been conducting a feasibility study to gauge the society's fund-raising prospects and "early findings . . . are very positive," Mr. Fiori said. "The philanthropic community has been very supportive. Basically, the feeling is: It's about time something bold was done."

Funds already are available to begin transforming the bus garage, given to the society last year by the Schmoke administration as part of a campaign to turn the Howard Street corridor into an Avenue of the Arts.

Maryland's General Assembly this spring allocated $1 million to rehabilitate the structure, and the society has raised another $1 million.

The service terminal was built in 1941 and 1942 as an annex to the Greyhound bus station at Howard and Centre streets. Both buildings were designed by Wischmeyer, Arrasmith and Elswick, firm that specialized in Art Moderne bus terminals. Greyhound moved elsewhere in the 1980s.

Plans by the Grieves office call for the garage to be recycled as a Center for Maryland History, providing roughly 6,000 square feet of temporary exhibit space, 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space, and related support areas.

The initial work will help stabilize the shell and prepare the garage for its new uses. It will include adding climate control and replacing the doors on Park Avenue with a display window to showcase exhibits inside.

Once the shell is ready and funds are available, the society will begin installing its exhibit on Maryland history, a process that could take several years. The building may be made available for other exhibits or uses while the permanent exhibit is being planned and fabricated, possibly as early as next summer, Mr. Fiori said.

Other elements of the master plan include:

* A multistory "link" between the Greyhound building and the rest of the society's campus, plus a large entrance courtyard off Park Avenue. Cost: $2.1 million.

* Upgrading and expansion of the society's existing buildings, -- including the 1847 Enoch Pratt House, the 1919 library by Wyatt and Nolting; and the 1967 Thomas and Hugg Memorial Building. Cost: $6 million.

Further off would be a "Hall of Counties" pavilion with space for large-scale exhibits and public gatherings. It eventually could be constructed on the courtyard planned as part $2.1 million link, Mr. Fiori said.

One controversial idea has been dropped. Society representatives indicated in April that they were exploring the idea of razing two 1920s era commercial buildings in the 600 block of N. Howard St. to create a 31-space parking lot, a plan that drew sharp opposition from local preservationists.

Mr. Fiori said the society now plans to stabilize the buildings and seek possible long-range uses for them.

"Given the controversy, we have decided not to move ahead with demolition," he said.

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