The Maryland Historical Society launched its $20 million expansion yesterday with a "garage door opening" ceremony signaling the start of the conversion of the former Greyhound bus garage in Baltimore into a showcase for 350 years of state history.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hailed the project as a key component of the "Avenue of the Arts" his administration is working to create along the Howard Street corridor.
"The fact that you've decided to remain in the city and invest in the city is significant for Baltimore and will resonate throughout the city," the mayor told society members and administrators gathered inside the garage.
"This is tremendously exciting, to know that Howard Street and the Maryland Historical Society will serve as a gateway to many other institutions and attractions" downtown, Mr. Schmoke said.
Built in 1941 and 1942, the vacant bus garage is at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Centre Street, half a block from Howard Street.
The society's "history campus" occupies the north side of the same block.
An annex to the former Greyhound bus station, which was converted to offices several years ago, the Art Moderne garage was acquired by the city after Greyhound moved elsewhere in the 1980s.
Mr. Schmoke agreed last October to sell the garage to the society so that it could expand.
The conversion of the bus garage, which is expected to take several years, is the first step in a $20 million plan by society directors to broaden the offerings of the 151-year-old institution and to reorganize and upgrade its facilities.
The society plans to recycle the garage as a Center for Maryland History with about 6,000 square feet for temporary exhibits, 8,000 to 10,000 square feet for permanent exhibits and related support areas.
"This building will truly allow us to bring Maryland history alive," said Dennis Fiori, the society's executive director.
"The floor will come out. The ceiling will get insulation. Climate control will come in," Mr. Fiori said. "This will be one of the city's largest exhibition centers," providing "the only comprehensive introduction to 350 years of Maryland life."
Grieves, Worrall, Wright and O'Hatnick of Baltimore is the project architect. Pat Chester of Washington is the exhibit designer.
One of the prominent features, Mr. Fiori said, will be replacement of the old bus garage doors on Park Avenue with a display window large enough for a boat or a train.
Other elements of the society's master plan for expansion include construction of a multistory connector between the Greyhound building and the rest of the society's campus;
creation of a large entrance courtyard off Park Avenue; and 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.
Also planned is a Hall of Counties pavilion that would have space for large exhibits and public gatherings. It eventually could be built in the courtyard off Park Avenue.
Phases of the project will be completed as funds permit. The society has more than $2 million to begin to convert the garage.
"The excitement is here," said Jay Griswold, president of the society's board. "We're all going to make this happen. The Maryland Historical Society is pleased to do its part."
Other arts-related projects planned for North Howard Street include housing for artists in the 400 block, a performing arts center in the 900 block and a new home for the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center in the 500 block.
Mr. Schmoke, who is to post street signs tomorrow identifying Howard Street as the "Avenue of the Arts," said he believes the corridor's transformation will result in "a wonderful and inviting environment" for everyone.
"There will be times when people think we don't move fast enough," he said. But "the vision is there, and we will achieve these goals. Clearly, what's happening here is a real sign of hope."