The Baptist Home, one of the area's oldest retirement communities, will close next month and turn over its sprawling Green Spring Valley mansion - once the home of Gen. Douglas MacArthur - to a bank to which it owes more than $1 million.
Financial problems arose last year after the owner, Baptist Home of Maryland/Delaware Inc., borrowed more than $2 million from Allfirst Bank to build a facility in Laurel. However, that project lost state approval, and the money could not be repaid completely, said Carolyn Jackson, president of the board of directors.
"We all are very sad about this," Jackson said yesterday. "We do have a community that is unique and provides a level of care and a family environment that's hard to come by."
The home's closing is being monitored by the Maryland Department of Aging, which is ensuring that the Baptist Home staff helps relocate residents. Baptist Home must continue to financially support residents who paid large fees for lifetime care, said Sue Ward, secretary of the department.
The closing raises questions about the future of Rainbow Hall, the Georgian-style mansion - named for MacArthur's World War I unit - that recently housed 43 people. Baltimore County preservationists say they fear the building, constructed in 1917 at a cost of $1 million, could be demolished.
The Baptist Home acquired Rainbow Hall in 1963. At the time, the property consisted of 43 acres and included a main house, several outbuildings, a servants cottage and a 10-car garage, according to the Baptist Home Web site.
The mansion, which was 177 feet long and 75 feet wide, included a reception hall, drawing room, sun porch, breakfast room and formal dining room. A grand staircase led to nine bedrooms and six bathrooms, plus 10 bedrooms and three baths for the servants. A wing was added in 1969.
Then-Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his wife, Louise Cromwell Brooks, moved into the mansion in the mid-1920s after returning from a three-year posting to the Philippines. They named the estate in honor of the 42nd Rainbow Division he commanded in France during World War I.
They divorced in 1929, and MacArthur's ex-wife and her husband sold the estate to the Rosenberg family in 1940.
The closing of the Baptist Home was announced in letters to the residents' relatives Jan. 30. Nancy Sherman of Towson said she was unaware of any financial problems until she received her letter.
Sherman said her 84-year-old mother, Dorothy Linnane, has Alzheimer's disease and could not understand why she was being moved.
When they arrived Monday at a Towson nursing home, "she was absolutely frantic, running up and down the halls looking for the exit. She can't understand. It would be like taking your 3-year-old some place and walking out the door," said Sherman.
She described the Baptist Home as "idyllic," with a dedicated staff that treated her mother like family. "She was able to wander all over that old mansion to see the scenery and trees," Sherman said.
Jackson said Baptist Home of Maryland/Delaware, a nonprofit corporation, sold 22 acres last December and raised $500,000 to pay off part of the loan, but it was not enough to save the home. She said Allfirst will take possession of the mansion and the remaining 21 acres, dotted with elegant 200-foot-tall trees, along Park Heights Avenue in the heart of the exclusive Green Spring Valley.
Property's future uncertain
Philip Hosmer, an Allfirst spokesman, said the bank has not begun foreclosure proceedings. He declined to say what the bank plans to do with the property.
State tax assessors valued the property at $2 million last month.
Jackson, the Baptist Home board president, said the board will continue to operate to ensure patients get the appropriate care. It does not operate any other retirement homes, she said.
She said the board wanted to replace Rainbow Hall, which because of its age is difficult to upgrade, with the Laurel facility.
But the state Department of Aging pulled the plug on the Laurel project - named the Trellises - last March, canceling its preliminary certification because Baptist Home had not found enough residents to fill what would have been a 249-person facility, said Lisa Clinton Segmiller, chief of continuing care for the department.
Ward said the project might have failed because it faced stiff competition from retirement communities in the Laurel area.
Preservationists said yesterday that they are worried that Rainbow Hall could be razed since it is not protected on the Baltimore County historic landmarks list.
Historic value noted
"It would be very disappointing to have it demolished," said Judith Kremen, executive director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust Inc., who said she believes the mansion is historic "because of its association with General MacArthur."
The Baptist Home was founded in 1915 by Willoughby M. McCormick of the McCormick Spice Co. to help widows of Baptist ministers and poor women.
It was originally located in Charles Village, then moved to Mount Vernon in 1924. Thirty-nine years later, Baptist Home relocated to Rainbow Hall, where it has assisted-living and nursing-home facilities.