Former South Baltimore General building set for $4 million in interior renovations Nursing home owner notes functional obsolescence

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The landmark building that once housed South Baltimore General Hospital, birthplace of three generations of peninsula residents, is scheduled to undergo a $4 million renovation that will kickoff later this month.

Harbour Inn Convalescent Center, a 225-bed nursing home for Medicaid patients, has occupied the 96,386-square-foot structure since 1990. The center's owner and president, Sarkis K. Nazarian, says the entire interior of the 1914 building needs to be redone because it is "functionally obsolete."

"I was not proud of it," Nazarian says. "It's nothing like you would expect to find in a health facility."

Eighty-three years ago, South Baltimore General Hospital, founded in 1900, paid $100,000 to erect its new home at 1213 Light St. The building, now four stories tall, has served as an anchor of the South Baltimore peninsula for 54 years.

The old hospital -- a place where many South Baltimore residents were born and where more than a few expected to die -- still arouses strong passions. Older African-Americans, particularly in Cherry Hill, recall with bitterness the segregated emergency rooms and the back entrance through which many of them were forced to enter.

In 1968, the hospital, now known as Harbor Hospital Center, relocated from Light Street to 3001 S. Hanover St., on the Patapsco River's Middle Branch. One reason for the move had been the building's slow deterioration.

In succeeding years, several tenants have tinkered with the building, but Harbour Inn's renovations will be the most thorough. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Harbour Inn is upgrading equipment and, in the facility's south wing, gutting and remaking rooms that housed patients 80 years ago, Nazarian says. While contractors are preserving the old hospital exterior and historic interior items such as a 1914 stairway, the entire heating, electrical, plumbing and fire alarm systems are being replaced. The facility is adding central air conditioning. No patients will be displaced, officials say.

"This place is still operating on the old steam heat of the hospital," says Alan W. Porterfield, the facility's administrator.

Nazarian, who bought the building in 1990, has had some trouble with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The state fined Harbour Inn more than $100,000 last year for "inappropriate restraint usage," according to Carol Benner, director of Licensing and Certification Administration. Harbour Inn officials have contested the fine and are appealing, Benner said.

Chris Nazarian, Sarkis Nazarian's son and an administrator-in-training at the facility, said last night that the state's penalty came without warning and was unjustified.

Meanwhile, Marguerite Murray, 63, and other residents say they are hopeful that the renovations will be a boon.

In April 1994, Murray left her home on Chilton Street in East Baltimore and moved to Harbour Inn after suffering two strokes.

When she first arrived, mice came into her room at night once and "I thought of just jumping out the window." But Nazarian and the staff have improved conditions and involved residents in planning the changes, she says.

"The best thing about it is that they are going to have air conditioning," Murray says. "We need more air in here."

Pub Date: 1/08/97

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