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Hospital now student housing


Generations of Baltimoreans drew their first breaths at the old Hospital for the Women of Maryland, a Bolton Hill landmark.

Now the Maryland Institute College of Art has breathed new life into the building itself, after it had stood vacant for nearly a decade.

The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff House is the name of a $16 million student life and residential facility that the Maryland Institute has created inside the shell of the old hospital at Lafayette and John streets.

The six story building has been named after two internationally renowned art collectors and philanthropists who gave the institute $4 million. Most of the money went into an endowment that the college is creating to help cover operating costs of the building.

Jane Bernstein Meyerhoff , a longtime supporter and trustee emeritus of the college, is one of 22,000 Marylanders born at the hospital, once the third-largest medical facility in the Baltimore area.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, at which the building and dining hall will officially be named for her and her husband, will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 26. Students will start moving in later in the week.

"This facility will make a huge difference in student life, while adding energy and life to the heart of Bolton Hill," said Jana Varwig, dean of student affairs.

"There are no cookie cutter-rooms," Varwig added. "Wherever possible, we have maintained the architectural uniqueness of the former hospital. There are high ceilings, exposed brick, interesting geometries and, especially from the upper floors, spectacular views."

Meyerhoff House is the second large student housing complex created by the Maryland Institute, after the 10-year-old Commons on McMechen Street.

While the Commons has 342 beds for freshmen, the Meyerhoff House has 202 beds in 73 apartments for sophomores and other upper-level students who want to stay in campus housing. It is a response to a trend in which undergraduates around the area are choosing to live in campus housing after their freshman year rather than move off-campus. It also responds to the growth of the college, which has increased over the past decade from 900 students to 1,350, and its goal of providing on-campus residential facilities for 40 percent of its students.

Besides creating upper-level living quarters, designers of Meyerhoff House have used every square inch of the former hospital to create spaces that art students can use before and after classes, including the college's main dining facility. The old emergency room is now the main entrance and student activities office. A former chapel is the music room, complete with a grand piano. A lower-level fitness center and 28 student work spaces will be completed after students move in.

The apartment layout takes into consideration artists' needs for large work space. Shared areas are relatively small, while bedrooms are large, with flexible furnishings such as lofts and Murphy beds. All bedrooms are singles, and apartments have full refrigerators and either stoves or microwaves.

The interior design focused on the use of natural materials, such as brick and wood, and natural light sources, as well as such amenities as Internet connections and cable television. According to Mike Molla, vice president of operations, the college is setting up a house governance system based on the concept of an artists' cooperative.

As reasons for their gift, the Meyerhoffs cited their interest in this project and their confidence in the college's leadership and track record in the education of artists. "This specific project seemed an appropriate vehicle to help the institution fulfill its vision for the future while also benefiting the Baltimore community," Robert Meyerhoff said. "It restores an important structure in the heart of the historic neighborhood of Bolton Hill. We feel that the college's presence is an asset to the entire Mount Royal cultural area."

Its completion "takes the college to the next level in the building of a campus," added Jane Meyerhoff.

D. R. Brasher of Columbia was the architect for the conversion; Aynur Gunes of Atelier Design was the interior architect. Higgins-Lazarus is the landscape architect. Mullan Contracting Co. was the general contractor.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building occupies most of the block bounded by Lafayette Avenue and John, Mosher and Brevard streets. It dates from 1886 and was expanded in 1888, 1909 and 1929. Portions were designed by the noted architect Joseph Evans Sperry. It was constructed to house the Hospital for the Women of Maryland and remained its home until the 1960s. The women's hospital joined forces with the Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital of East Baltimore in the 1960s and moved to Baltimore County, where it became the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The Lafayette Street property was converted to a nursing home and run by a succession of operators until the early 1990s, when it was closed and put up for sale. In 1992, it was acquired at auction for $825,000 by a company that had foreclosed on the property. The previous owner was a partnership controlled by Baltimore businessman David Hurwitz.

The college acquired it for $1 million at the end of in 2000, after the city initiated legal proceedings against the previous owner for failing to redevelop it as promised.

"It's a big plus for the neighborhood, particularly because the college has done such a great job in the past working ... on successful projects like the Commons," said Stan Smith, past president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association.

Robert and Jane Meyerhoff have taken a lead role in many projects involving the college's campus along Mount Royal Avenue.

Jane Meyerhoff co-chaired efforts to raise funds for renovation of the historic Mount Royal Station, a B&O; Railroad passenger terminal that was under threat of demolition when it was transformed into studio, instructional and gallery space for the college in the mid-1960s.

Robert Meyerhoff was co-chair of the early-1980s campaign that focused on renovation of the former Cannon Shoe Factory into the Fox Building. The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Gallery in that building was dedicated in 1981. The Meyerhoffs have also supported the college through the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Special Programs Endowment.

Several other Maryland Institute trustees and a Maryland corporation made additional gifts that provide named spaces within the Meyerhoff House.

The Richard and Sheila Riggs Reception Area is named for longtime trustee Sheila Riggs and her husband. An inner landscaped courtyard will be dedicated to the memory of Edwin A. Daniels Jr., who served as a college trustee from 1968 until his death earlier this year. Gifts were made in Daniels' honor by Mr. and Mrs. Matthias J. DeVito and Mr. and Mrs. Anthony W. Deering, along with a gift from The Rouse Company, where Daniels had been vice president.

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