Thoughtful preservation; Tall Trees: Knocking down decrepit buildings doesn't preclude sensible historic preservation.


EVEN THE most careful preservation of the 105 buildings in the Tall Trees apartment complex won't make Essex a World War II equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg.

When 53,000 people worked in the Glenn L. Martin Co. factories building the aircraft that helped to win World War II, there was a need for thousands of units of hastily built housing. That need no longer exists. Trying to preserve all these apartments is an exercise in economic futility. Labeling them "historic" won't change that.

Eastern Baltimore County has too many apartment units, and the market can't support them. Landlords drop the rents, can't afford the upkeep and end up attracting high concentrations of less-desirable tenants.

The way to end this downward spiral is to remove the surplus units from the market. Preserving Tall Trees would only aggravate the community's current condition.

These walk-up, garden-style apartments are in need of major rehabilitation. After 60 years, most have outdated plumbing and electrical systems. To bring these units up to standards demanded by today's tenants would require tens of millions of dollars. Even with the tax credits that come with historic restoration projects, no developer is likely to risk his capital on rehabilitating these structures.

Moreover, these structures are not architectural treasures worth preserving. They were utilitarian apartments that have far outlived their useful lives.

A good argument can be made for preserving some examples of the buildings that housed the thousands of defense workers, just as communities have preserved examples of slave quarters, mill dormitories and factory worker housing. It is important that we retain examples of buildings that housed the workers who labored in the defense plants producing the planes, ships and weapons that defeated the Axis powers.

There is, however, no compelling reason to preserve each and every unit built during that period.

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