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City gets a link to its past


New Economy entrepreneurs love working in funky old buildings. Travel industry leaders report an upsurge of interest in heritage tourism. Antiques dealers on Key Highway are busier than ever.

Now there's even more evidence that history has a role to play in Baltimore's renaissance: The city is getting its own historical society.

The Baltimore City Historical Society will hold its inaugural meeting at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in City Hall, 100 N. Holliday St.

The group was established to encourage public interest in Baltimore's history, serve as a gathering place for history buffs and support and promote the local museum community. Its founders also plan to develop and maintain a Web site as a clearinghouse of materials related to Baltimore history.

"Baltimore City is the only jurisdiction in the state of Maryland which does not have its own historical society," said John Carroll Byrnes, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge and president of the new group.

"The individuals who organized this society strongly believe that the culture and citizens of Baltimore will benefit by our working with the city's established museums and the Maryland Historical Society to provide a dynamic and complimentary synergy."

"An active historical society can play a significant role in Baltimore's rebirth," Mayor Martin O'Malley wrote in a letter inviting the society's founders to hold their inaugural meeting at City Hall. "It is important, as we move our city forward, that we honor our past and draw strength and inspiration from our proud history."

Other officers of the organization, incorporated last year, include Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., vice president; University of Baltimore historian Jessica Elfenbein, treasurer; and William Stifler III, former president of the Greater Baltimore History Alliance, the group's secretary.

Baltimore already has a Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, a city agency that reviews construction plans involving city landmarks and historic districts, and Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group. The new group is not strictly a building preservation organization, although some members are likely to have a strong interest in architectural history.

The model is closer to that of the 157-year-old Maryland Historical Society. It has a museum, library, press and educational division, and its collections include artifacts from the old Baltimore City Life Museums.

Founders of the new group want to work closely with the statewide organization in the collection, storage and presentation of historical materials pertaining to Baltimore. Scheduled speakers at the first meeting, which is open to the public, include O'Malley and Dennis Fiori, the Maryland Historical Society's director.

Baltimore's new historical society is seeking charter members who can represent all sections and constituencies of the city. Dues will be the donation of one book about Baltimore. "The resulting collection will begin what we hope will eventually become a permanent resource for the citizens of Baltimore - a copy of every book in print about our city." Byrnes said.

Temple dedication

Members of Temple Oheb Shalom, a leading Reform synagogue at 7310 Park Heights Ave. in Baltimore, will dedicate their newly renovated Marlene and Stewart Greenbaum sanctuary at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The dedication ceremony, which is open to the public, will start with a traditional Friday evening Shabbat service to be followed by a reception.

Constructed in 1960, the sanctuary is the only building in central Maryland designed in part by Walter Gropius, one of the early leaders of the Modern movement in world architecture. It is one of Baltimore's most architecturally significant religious structures. The renovation work, designed by Mark Levin of Levin Brown & Associates, marks a commitment by the congregation to remain in the city rather than moving farther into the suburbs, as many other congregations have done.

The congregation wanted Levin to bring the sanctuary more in line with the trend of making houses of worship more intimate and participatory, without completely altering the building's original character. This is the first major renovation to the temple, which Gropius designed in collaboration with Sheldon I. Leavitt of Norfolk, Va. The property is the third location for Temple Oheb Shalom, which was founded in 1853 and has more than 1,000 families in its membership.

Fire station for sale

Baltimore's housing department has set June 1 as the deadline for proposals from individuals or companies that would like to redevelop a surplus city fire station: former Engine Company Number 24 at 214 1/2 Patterson Park Ave. in the Middle East urban renewal area.

The station is one of several that the O'Malley administration is putting up for sale this year.

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