Restoration of a cultural landmark Marlborough: The 1906 Northwest Baltimore apartment building, once the home of the Cone sisters, is undergoing a $13 million makeover.


A new tenant recently moved his furniture into a most remarkable Baltimore address, a grand Eutaw Place apartment that is squarely in the eye of a $13 million dust cloud of a yearlong renovation.

The other day, Joseph Jackson checked into a freshly refurbished unit on the eighth floor of the Beaux Arts style building that overlooks a Northwest Baltimore landscape of old synagogue minarets, church steeples and blocks of three-story rowhouses.

His corner apartment occupies the spot where the sisters

Claribel and Etta Cone lived for years with their 3,000-object art collection renowned for its canvases by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, in addition to sculptures, linens, furniture and rugs.

Jackson's spot might be the most famous apartment address in Baltimore's cultural history.

"I never thought I'd live in this building," said the 64-year-old retired handyman as he unpacked his stereo and his handmade guitar in the Marlborough, a 1906 structure that began its life as one of Baltimore's most prestigious residential addresses, gradually declined in the 1950s and '60s and was converted to fixed-income senior citizen housing in 1971.

Jackson, like most current residents, is black -- which, 60 years ago, would have kept him from living at the Marlborough because of segregation laws. A Northwest Baltimore native, he has lived in the building for many years and -- like 200 other residents getting new quarters at their old home -- was delighted to be moving into a larger apartment.

Interior alterations

While there has been little change to the landmark's brick and limestone exterior walls, which are embellished with iron work, the inside tells another story.

With a reduction in units from 287 to 229, its 10 floors of apartments are being transformed from what one of its owners termed "a warehouse for the elderly" into enlarged, carpeted homes.

New ownership is undoing some hardnosed decisions made in 1971, when, to the horror of local preservationists, the Marlborough's fabled interior was reduced to bare steel columns.

Leaded glass windows, parquet floors and an elegant lobby were removed during the gutting. During the recent renovation, workers located an iron staircase and ceramic tiles but little else.

The new partnership -- Marlborough Revitalization Limited -- consists of Louis Greenfield, whose father bought the Marlborough in 1971 and performed the initial renovation; William Hazelhurst, a developer; and William Parham of Madison Avenue Development Corp.

"What happened at the Marlborough 27 years ago reflected the way we housed the elderly. We warehoused them," said William Parham.

Quiet progress

Parham, 51, who is black, grew up a dozen blocks from the building off Pennsylvania Avenue on Cumberland Street. His father, William Parham Sr., delivered prescriptions for Young's Pharmacy on Druid Hill Avenue. When he went to the Marlborough, he had to use the back door.

The younger Parham heads the development arm of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, of which he is a member -- an institution with community roots that is quietly strengthening housing in the area.

The residents "represent the whole culture of the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood -- Pennsylvania Avenue, the theaters, the jazz scene," said arts curator George Ciscle, serving as a consultant to the renovation. "They were also a working support system for other people who lived in this neighborhood. When the white families moved out, they [black workers] then took the buses to Pikesville and worked there."

Some of the residential floors will be lined with reproductions from the Cone Collection. This summer, a Maryland Institute, College of Art class will explain the building's history to its residents, many of whom spend spring afternoons sitting in the Marlborough's front court.

"The people living here today would have been the servants of the Cone sisters 70 years ago," said Parham, recalling that the Cones' chauffeur lived up the street from the house where he spent his childhood.

In the 1930s, for example, city directories reveal that the building had 122 apartments on 10 floors. It was the home to some of the city's most prominent Jewish families -- Ambach, Coblens, Hecht, Schloss and Strouse -- in addition to Etta Cone, who rented two adjoining apartments, 8-B and 8-D. Her sister Claribel died in 1929.

"The building is more beautiful than it was before," said Mary Holmes, a resident who acts as a historian of the Marlborough.

She recalls that a seamstress for Grace Kelly lived there. So did some of the city's teachers and musicians.

Holmes, who moved to the Marlborough in 1974, remains a busy choir member at Immaculate Conception Church at Mosher and Division streets.

"I always loved this place because everyone seemed so happy," said 68-year-old Walter McCalip, who moved to the eighth floor from another part of the building. "This is my neighborhood. I'd like to die happy here."

Pub Date: 5/02/98

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