Illuminating addition to skyline Blaustein center: Lighting at night will call attention to the City Life Museum's new signature feature its reconstructed cast-iron facade.


A SOON-TO-OPEN museum addition is the latest building to be illuminated at night as part of the "Brighten Baltimore" campaign.

The Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center, opening April 12 as the newest phase of the Baltimore City Life Museums at Lombard and President streets, will be lighted in a ceremony that begins at 5:30 p.m. today.

Its western facade -- featuring hundreds of cast-iron pieces salvaged from the old G. Fava Fruit Co. building -- will be illuminated each evening as part of a citywide effort to light the downtown skyline at night.

Local buildings that already have been illuminated include the Bromo Seltzer Tower, the NationsBank tower, Penn Station and the World Trade Center. The Blaustein building will be visible to thousands of people traveling along President Street south of the Jones Falls Expressway.

Museum administrators decided to light the Blaustein building's cast-iron facade because they are proud of the latest addition to Museum Row and want people to visit.

"It's not just a building to drive by and look at. It's a building to go into," said John Durel, executive director of the Baltimore City Life Museums.

The organizers of Brighten Baltimore have made the argument that lighting not only beautifies the city but provides a sense of safety, and "that's important for us," Mr. Durel said. "We're transforming this part of town. It establishes a sense that this area is not on the fringe. It's part of downtown."

The lighting also will call attention to the building's signature feature -- the cast-iron front.

"This is a treasure," Mr. Durel said. "No other cast-iron building has been taken down and reconstructed in this way. We want people to know it's here. We want people to take their kids and say, 'Look at this!' It's a new gateway to downtown."

The building will contain four floors of interactive exhibits and galleries that pay tribute to Baltimore's history and culture. It was designed by Peterson and Brickbauer, which closed last year, and is being completed under the direction of Ziger/Snead Architects & Charles Brickbauer. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is the general contractor.

The Fava building dated from 1869 and originally stood on the site of the Baltimore Convention Center. In a gesture to preservationists, then-Housing Commissioner Robert C. Embry Jr. agreed to save the cast-iron pieces for reconstruction elsewhere in the city. Instead of re-erecting the five-bay facade in one plane as it was before, the architects suggested that it be folded like an accordion to decrease its apparent scale and help it fit more comfortably along Museum Row.

The museum is planning a monthlong opening celebration called "City Life Alive," starting with a VIP ribbon cutting April 12 and a daylong "City Life Festival" on April 13. A black-tie fund-raising gala will be held April 20, and curators will present gallery talks about the exhibits through early May.

The lighting also will call attention to the rich red color chosen for the cast-iron facade -- a shade of Tnemec brand paint called Monterey Tile.

The dismantled cast-iron parts showed evidence of having been painted three colors over time: red, green and dark gray. Charles Brickbauer said that he and architect Hugh McCormick wanted to paint the reconstructed facade in a shade that harmonized with the Carroll Mansion and other brick buildings nearby.

Mr. Brickbauer noted that red is typically the color that steel comes in when it's primed and is appropriate for a ferrous material such as cast iron. He explained that a lighter color, such as the white shade used on the Marsh and McLennan building at Pratt and Howard streets, would have accentuated the difference between the cast-iron front and the masonry sides of the building.

Since the Blaustein building's cast-iron front is so three-dimensional, he said, the designers wanted a color that would help "pull it all together as one structure. What we wanted to do is turn this into a building, not just a front attached to something."

Also, in an exhibit on cast iron several years ago, the Peale Museum, 225 N. Holliday St., displayed a fragment of the Fava building that was orange-red, and "it was gorgeous, spectacular. That's what got the whole idea going," Mr. Brickbauer said.

Trim around the windows is accented in dark green, a traditional Baltimore color, and the area around the doorways is tan-gray.

The design team has received nothing but positive comments about the colors. "We're getting a fabulous response," Mr. Brickbauer said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad