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Noteworthy home eyed for school


THE THREE-STORY brownstone at 704 Cathedral St. in Baltimore has been home to writer Henry Louis Mencken and banker Alexander Brown, and other notable Marylanders.

But it may soon become part of Baltimore's School for the Arts, if the City Council approves legislation that would authorize the city to acquire it for use by the school.

Baltimore's Planning Commission unanimously endorsed last week a $5.29 million proposal that calls for the building, known as the Graham House, to be recycled to house the visual arts programs of the school, which is next door at 712 Cathedral St.

The council's finance subcommittee will hold a public hearing on the pending legislation at 10 a.m. Oct. 12 at City Hall.

After opening in 1979 with about 100 students, the School for the Arts today has 300 high school students and 300 students in grades three through eight in after-school programs. Administrators say the school has outgrown its facility - the old Alcazar Hotel - and needs more space for its music, theater, dance, visual arts and academic programs.

After considering several properties, the school's Board of Overseers has concluded that 704 Cathedral St. "holds the best promise for the school's future," outgoing director Stanley E. Romanstein told the commission members.

Although the Baltimore City public school system would assume ownership of the building, all funding for the expansion would come from private sources. The nonprofit Abell Foundation has agreed to provide funds for acquisition at an estimated cost of $290,000. The school's Board of Overseers, a private, nonprofit organization, will raise the funds for restoration and renovation. The estimated cost is $5 million, but no architect has been hired.

Part of the Mount Vernon historic district, the 22,000- square-foot building was designed by Joseph Kemp and constructed about 1850 for owner William H. Graham. It is considered one of the finest townhouses of its period in Baltimore, according to a survey on file with the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. The building was sold in 1885 to George S. Brown, the father of the financier. The Brown family sold it in 1894.

The building was converted to apartments by 1918, city records show. Mencken was a tenant in the 1930s during his brief marriage to Sarah Haardt.

The current owner, Laurence Glass, does not live in the building full time and has refused the school's offer to buy it, commissioners were told at the hearing. Glass did not appear, but an attorney representing him asked the commission in a letter to postpone a decision for two weeks.

After some discussion, commissioners voted to support the bill, saying the owner could make his case at the council hearing. Glass could not be reached and his lawyer declined to comment.

The school's expansion plan has strong support from the Mount Vernon Cultural District, the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

"We welcome the fact that this building will be restored and renovated and made part of our neighborhood again," said Ruth Wolf Rehfeld of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

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