County officials eye 2 proposals for Towson mansion Country inn or offices suggested for 1868 villa


The deteriorating Aigburth Vale mansion in Towson may be on the verge of regaining its former grandeur, as Baltimore County officials ponder a pair of proposals to restore the historic property.

Last week, after months of seeking buyers for the 1868 villa, a county committee narrowed its search to the two possibilities -- one that would turn the house into a country inn; the other for offices after renovation by builders and preservationists.

A committee of government representatives and community members will meet Jan. 22 to discuss the finalists' plans. The county received nine applications for the 19th-century mansion, ranging from restoration into a private residence to a women's center.

"We were pleased to get two strong proposals," said Lisa Keir, an aide to Towson's Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who is on the committee.

Most recently, the site -- purchased by the county school system in 1950 -- housed adult-education offices.

But, after years of neglect, the county government took control of the 22-room house and outbuildings this year, offering the property for sale for $500 to an individual or group who would restore the estate.

Originally, Aigburth was the home of John Owens, one of the 19th century's most renowned comedic actors. Built in 1868, the French-style mansion was designed by two prominent Baltimore architects, John Rudolph Niernsee and James Crawford Neilson.

After Owens' death, his wife lost the estate. In time, the mansion was converted into a summer boarding home, then a sanitarium until the school system took it over.

In recent years, the grounds and buildings at Aigburth, on 3 acres near Towson High School, have fallen into disrepair. The green mansard roof leaks, ceilings are caving in, exterior boards are falling off and the paint is largely chipped away.

In one of the two competing proposals being considered by the county, Anne and Brian Pomykala, owners of Gramercy Mansion bed and breakfast in Green Spring Valley, would like to open a 17-room inn that would include a full-service dining facility and rooms for receptions and conferences.

They estimate it would cost $800,000 to renovate the mansion with another $245,000 for furnishings and $750,000 for the outbuildings, which include a gatehouse, stable and smaller Colonial-style house.

"We think it will be a focal point of the community as opposed to an office building," Anne Pomykala said. "We feel that as a country inn the place is always going to be kept up."

The Pomykalas see Aigburth as another opportunity to refurbish an older property. In addition to Gramercy, a 26-room English Tudor mansion built in the early 1900s, they also have refurbished the turn-of-the-century Bauernschmidt mansion, an 18-room brick home on Eutaw Place near Druid Hill Park.

"We're preservationists," Anne Pomykala said. "We're interested in old houses. We don't like to see them decay."

In the other proposal, developer Martin P. Azola, who has restored historic properties such as the Rockland stone houses at Falls and Old Court roads, is hoping to head a collaborative renovation effort to turn the property into offices for nonprofit organizations.

His partners would be the Maryland Homebuilders Association and Preservation Maryland. The builders would provide the workers, and the preservationists would offer the historical expertise for renovations, Azola said.

"I think this is an exciting approach to restoration," he said. "It will be a coming together of industry in as visible a way as possible."

Azola estimates the renovation could cost up to $750,000 to "make it look pretty from the road and weather-tight."

"Everyone has something to gain in this hands-on restoration," he said.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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