For more than two decades, it housed one of Baltimore's most prestigious private schools.
Soon it may be the site of another kind of teaching effort, an experiment in luring more people to live in the center city.
The first permanent home of Calvert School, at 10 W. Chase Street in Baltimore's Mount Vernon historic district, has been targeted for conversion to rental housing for college students and young professionals.
Developer Bettyjean Murphy has been negotiating to buy the building for $350,000 and plans to spend another $1.2 million to create 17 loft apartments inside its shell.
Baltimore's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals last week approved a request to change zoning for the property to permit construction of residences there.
It would be the fourth school conversion by Ms. Murphy's Savannah Development Corp. and the company's first project in the Mount Vernon area.
Ms. Murphy said she is pursuing the project to see how much demand exists for market-rate housing inside older "Class B" office and institutional buildings that now stand vacant within walking distance of downtown.
"It's a test case," she said. "I'm doing this because I think more Class B buildings should be converted to housing. Many of them are so beautiful. I'm trying to see if I can generate a market."
Established in 1897, Calvert School initially rented rooms above a drugstore. Its five-level building on Chase Street, which opened in 1901, was designed by Wyatt and Nolting and cost $70,000, according to the school's archives.
The school outgrew its Mount Vernon location and moved to 105 Tuscany Road in the 1920s. The Chase Street building later became an annex of Hynson, Westcott and Dunning, the pharmaceutical firm that invented Mercurochrome and had offices at the northwest corner of Charles and Chase streets.
When the firm was acquired by Becton Dickinson in the 1980s, its employees were relocated to Baltimore County. The Chase Street building has been vacant in recent years but the interior is still in excellent condition, according to Ms. Murphy. She said she is trying to save money by reusing many of the original details, including marble in the bathrooms and oak woodwork in the corridors.
Ms. Murphy said she believes one of the best ways to get more people to live in the city is to provide attractive and affordable housing for young people with moderate incomes, such as clerical workers, middle level managers, and students. She said 10 West Chase will have a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments with monthly rents ranging from $450 to $750.
Point Three Architects of Baltimore is designing the conversion and James W. Miller Inc. is the general contractor. Construction is expected to begin in September and take six to nine months.
Architect James Arnold of Point Three said most people don't think of the building as a school because it was used most recently for offices. He said the former classrooms are just the right size for apartments and that the neoclassical exterior will be restored to its original appearance. He said his firm has even been exploring ways to re-create a roof garden that no longer exists.
"It's going to be a wonderful conversion," he said. "The new living spaces will rest within the building, rather than chopping it up."
Ms. Murphy said she is also enthusiastic about the building's prospects because the immediate area has seen a number of improvements in recent years, from a new restaurateur at the Belvedere to construction of the Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. branch next door.
"Everything around it is doing well," Ms. Murphy said. "This is going to add to the momentum."
B & O Museum
Two design firms, Einhorn Yaffee Prescott of Washington and Sears & Russell Consultants Ltd. of Toronto, have been selected to prepare a master plan that will help turn the B&O; Railroad Museum into the "Williamsburg of Railroading."
The joint venture was selected over 16 other bidders. It is the first major commission in Baltimore for Einhorn, which recently hired Baltimore resident Lee Glenn as a senior designer. Other consultants include Graham Landscape Architecture; John H. White Jr. and Robert M. Vogel, industrial archaeology; and Herbert Harwood, a former director of the museum.