BALTIMORE'S City Hall is one of the most ornate buildings in town, a French Renaissance-style confection of marble walls, mansard roofs, arched windows and bullet-hole dormers.
The new home of Alex. Brown Inc. is visually exuberant in its own right, with its colorful cast stonework, "fritted" glass windows and roof-level "lunettes."
So when the architects at Cho Wilks & Benn and Desman Associates Inc. were commissioned to design a garage for construction between the two, they didn't try to emulate either one.
They opted instead for a more reserved design that would be compatible with the buildings on both sides.
The garage could not be clad in marble, like City Hall, because the budget did not allow for that.
But both of the surrounding buildings have distinct bases, and the garage was designed to fit in by picking up some of the horizontal lines on those bases, explained architect Diane Cho.
"The height of the garage matches the height of the base of the Alex. Brown building and the main cornice of City Hall," she said. "That was the intent. We were trying to make [the garage] more of a background building, and focus on the two tower entries."
After months of site-clearance work, construction of the 510-space garage will begin this spring, with completion scheduled for the end of November.
The seven-level garage will be constructed by the city in the block bounded by Baltimore, Holliday and Fayette streets and Guilford Avenue.
The city's pledge to build a garage on Baltimore Street was a key element in Alex. Brown's decision to consolidate its headquarters in the office tower at One South St., rather than move hundreds of high-paying jobs to the suburbs.
Two hundred fifty spaces will be reserved for Alex. Brown employees; the rest will be for City Hall visitors and others.
Roy Kirby & Sons won the contract to be the general contractor, with a bid of $5.34 million. The cost of acquiring and clearing the site brings the garage's total price tag closer to between $8 million and $9 million.
The Baltimore Street garage has been controversial because the site until recently contained eight buildings, and most were considered by local preservationists to be historically significant.
A vacant lot was available in the 200 block of E. Baltimore Street, one block west, but Alex. Brown executives strongly expressed their preference that the garage be built in the 300 block.
It was the investment firm's way of eradicating part of The Block, the city's famed stretch of X-rated nightclubs and peep shows in the 300 and 400 blocks of E. Baltimore St.
Some garages have been constructed behind facades of older buildings, but architects for the Baltimore Street project decided not to incorporate any of the buildings there as part of the new garage. They told Baltimore's Architectural Review Board that an efficient garage layout did not permit any buildings to be preserved in their entirety, and that saving fragments of the old buildings might not be considered a successful preservation strategy.
M. Jay Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. and a registered architect, indicated early on that he concurred with the decision. Bits of one building, the Horn & Horn lunchroom, were salvaged by the Maryland Historical Society for use in an exhibit on Baltimore's bicentennial starting next month.
The replacement structure will be made of poured-in-place concrete, with an exterior of precast panels made to resemble limestone.
"We thought it was a more honest portrayal of a concrete garage to use a hung precast skin, as opposed to trying to make it look like a masonry building" with brick, Cho said.
Designers put pedestrian entrances and elevators at the northeast and southwest corners of the block, and retail space along Holliday and Baltimore streets. Cars will enter and exit from Guilford Avenue and Fayette Street.
To accentuate the link between City Hall and the Inner Harbor, the architects set the garage back from Holliday Street and left space for an extra-wide sidewalk. They have recommended that a landscaped plaza be created, possibly in conjunction with a local museum, to showcase city history and the immediate area.
Four "street gallery" windows along Holliday Street will be available for changing displays about artistic or historical subjects, such as the Great Fire of 1904.
The block was the site of Baltimore's first gas streetlight, which was also the first in the country.
The lamp fixture has been put in storage during construction but will be returned to its original location once the garage is complete.
Pub Date: 4/03/97