Angelfall Studios, a gleaming new art gallery in Remington, was conceived about a year ago when J. Hollis B. Albert III spied a shabby but well-built gray stone building across the street from a pub and a city police building at 30th Street and Remington Avenue.
Named for a large waterfall in Venezuela, it's the first such gallery in this struggling community between Hampden and Charles Village. Although it wasn't the most likely location for an arts venue, Albert spent $136,000 on an old German church, which had been converted into a grocery chain office, then spent about the same amount on renovations.
"I love art. I buy art. But I'm not an artist," said Albert, who was looking for studio space for friends Steve and Donna Lynch Archer.
"I like taking diamonds in the rough and thought this could be a great gallery after we carted out six Dumpsters' worth of junk and gutted the place," Albert, 44, said. "There you have it."
Steve Archer, a painter, and his wife, a singer and writer, are part owners and will run the art gallery while Albert tends to an energy contracting business that he owns and operates.
The Archers have office and studio space upstairs, over the gallery. Steve Archer still seems stunned by his good fortune.
"To go from [being] a bike courier and starving artist to being able to help starving artists is wonderful," said Archer, 31, grinning as he greeted more than 100 people at the door during a preview Thursday night.
The gallery officially opened Friday with a cafe, an addition to the original idea of art space. Albert recruited Dan Frank - a chef at the Blue Agave on Light Street in Federal Hill - to create an informal tapas restaurant, which will be open six days a week, the same hours as the gallery.
Floating walls divide the spacious gallery into separate viewing enclosures to display the work of a sculptor, a photographer and three painters.
The goal is to bring in new artwork every three weeks to the gallery. Poetry readings and educational projects with nearby schools are also planned.
First-time visitors appeared impressed.
"I'm rather awe-struck with it," said Caroline Ehrhardt, whose husband, Dyson, associate headmaster at Boys' Latin School, taught and coached Albert in lacrosse during his school days.
"Brings a bit of New York and San Francisco to Baltimore, don't you think?" Rose Clark of Lutherville said.
Three of the five artists with work on display were present for the preview, with photographer Cameron Smith from Denver the one who traveled the longest distance.
Jason Cresswell, a 27-year-old sculptor, came the shortest distance. He passes the gallery on his walk home to Remington from work at a Hampden foundry.
Cresswell said he heard by word of mouth that the new gallery was scouting for artists. "I came running," he said. "I fell in love with the space."
Josephine D. Beebe, a painter who lives in Stevensville on the Eastern Shore, enjoyed showing visitors her "Me Myself & I" self-portrait where her face is seen through three small mirrors in a still-life arrangement.
For some gallery-goers, it was the first time they had ventured into the neighborhood next to Interstate 83 that was once home to mill workers.
Smith used to live in this region and said the setting made him miss the East Coast's smaller scale. "There's more a sense of community with rowhouses," he said. "This is really a neat neighborhood."
Also at the preview was planning consultant Alfred W. Barry III. Though some gallery visitors were strangers to this part of town, Barry is a booster.
"I can't tell you how many people have said, 'I didn't know where Remington was, but what a cute neighborhood,'" said Barry, who is crafting a master plan for the Jones Falls Valley, including Remington.
"Neighborhoods need more recognition as gathering places for talent and diversity," Barry said.
Albert, who has lived in Cedarcroft in Northeast Baltimore for 22 years, is seen as a newcomer to a neighborhood not always friendly to change. The Remington Neighborhood Alliance is planning to oppose the cafe's application for a beer-and-wine license at a city liquor board hearing on Oct. 24.
Two years ago, the alliance successfully stopped PaperMoon diner owner Un Kim's attempt to build a fusion cuisine restaurant with live music. Opposition focused on her application for a liquor license.
"People are enthusiastic about the art gallery," said S. Ward Eisinger, the alliance president. "But some people are concerned about why a liquor license is necessary. The gallery is one thing, the liquor license is another. We have enough places selling alcohol already."
Albert is upbeat about winning over Remington residents, whom he invited to an open house last week. "The whole neighborhood's wonderful, with a couple curmudgeons," he said.
The owner of Dizzy Issie's, the pub where Albert spotted the building over a pre-Orioles game beer, said she thought it could bring a lift to the no-frills neighborhood - sometimes overshadowed by its more prosperous neighbor, Hampden.
"I think it's real good for the neighborhood," Elaine Stevens, the pub owner, said. "I hope it works out for them."