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Plan rises from the rubble of historic city building


One of Baltimore's few remaining buildings with cast iron on its facade is now a pile of bricks, and a preservationist says he hopes to form a group that could buy other vulnerable structures before they meet the same fate.

The 122-year-old Johnston Building came down this month on South Howard Street, the victim of a slow and unchecked deterioration. In its place, a 221-unit apartment building called Market Center West Apartments is supposed to rise.

"The building is gone - it's too bad," said James Dilts, author of Baltimore's Cast Iron Buildings and Architectural Ironwork.

"If you can have something come out of this experience, so the next building in a similar situation has a different outcome, I'd rather concentrate on that."

Dilts has begun plotting the formation of an organization that, with funding from foundations and individuals, could step in to save part of Baltimore's architectural legacy. The city has "a couple dozen" cast iron-fronted buildings left, he said, and many other gems that could be at risk.

While Dilts and other preservationists had been dreading the loss of the building, officials working with the city say the five-story structure made mostly of brick had fallen apart so it had to be razed.

The building was once intended to become part of the Market Center West Apartments. Under a plan proposed in 1997, a new apartment building would have been built at the site of a parking lot next door at Howard and Lombard streets, and tied into the Johnston Building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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