Permit sought to rebuild historic Owings House


The developer who angered historic preservationists by demolishing the Samuel Owings House has applied for a permit from Baltimore County to build a reproduction of the 18th-century home.

Howard Brown, who razed the house four years ago to make way for an office tower, has filed plans for a private residence designed to look like the original building.

Lawrence J. Link Jr., the project's architect, said, "It's not a replica. Don't use that word around me. It's not some cheap copy.

"We're going to do the real thing, only we're going to do it better," Link said. "I create new antiques."

The house would be built on property adjacent to the Torah Institute of Baltimore in Owings Mills. Brown said the house would likely be sold for about $750,000, with proceeds going to the Torah Institute.

Building the reproduction could end debate over the historic value of the original house, which was built in the 1760s by the mill owner for whom Owings Mills was named, and the politics behind its demolition.

The county's Landmark Preservation Commission placed the house on a preliminary list of protected landmarks in 1995, but County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger did not submit the recommendation to the County Council for approval.

Instead, Ruppersberger and Brown, a prominent philanthropist in the Jewish community and a financial contributor to the executive's campaign committee, agreed in February 1996 to have the nine-story office tower built at the site and to rebuild the Owings house elsewhere.

Hours before a judge was to hear a preservationist group's last attempt to halt the demolition in February 1996, a front-end loader pushed down the house's brick walls, bringing the building down in ruddy clouds of dust.

Outraged preservationists questioned whether a meaningful reproduction could be built, and County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who had helped arrange the deal between Ruppersberger and Brown, criticized the demolition method as "barbaric."

After a long search for a suitable property, Brown decided on the Torah Institute site in 1997. The property is within a mile of the house's original location and is near St. Thomas Episcopal Church, where Samuel Owings is buried.

Brown said that despite the time it took to find a site, he never doubted that he would be able to uphold his end of the deal.

"I shook hands with Dutch and McIntire. They wanted the house rebuilt, reproduced, and we're doing it," Brown said.

News that the reproduction was closer to being built evoked mixed feelings for Vicki L. Almond, who four years ago was a member of the Committee to Save the Samuel Owings House.

"It's a nice gesture, but I think that's all it is. I don't think it would satisfy the real historian," she said. But she added, "All of us have been watching for four years to see if there was going to be something. There's a part of me that feels glad about it being rebuilt."

Link has drafted plans for a house that will, he says, be faithful to the building's history -- even as it functions as a modern home with about 5,000 square feet of living space.

For instance, the moldings and paneling will reflect the home's Federal and Georgian style, while a first-floor master bedroom suite and three-car garage are nods to the latest in luxury home designs.

Link said he will not attempt to re-create the house as it was at any specific time in its history, in part because several additions had been built since the 18th century.

He said he is trying to create a feel that is consistent with how the building -- also known as "Ulm" -- would have been from about 1860 to just after the turn of the century.

To that end, plans call for a fireplace in every room. Link has recovered black-and-white photographs, believed to reflect the house around the turn of the century, to guide his choice of moldings and other details. One photo shows a fireplace with a panel that, for some reason, includes the number 211.

By the time the original house was demolished, experts had determined that most of the brick was not structurally sound to be used in a reproduction, Brown said. He said he has stored some bricks from the original house, possibly to be used inside.

Link said nothing from the interior of the original house, which had been remodeled with modern materials in the 1970s, was worth saving.

The reproduction's front exterior would be nearly identical to the original house. But plans call for a door on a one-story wing to be replaced by a window, and that section of the house is to be faced with stucco, as Link believes the original was.

But changes to the original floor plan would be made. Link's drawings include a large kitchen that opens to a family room, and a design that creates a courtyard in the back of the house.

"We're bringing it into the 21st century," he said. "But I'm trying to make it blend so it's all cut of the same cloth."

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