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Giving structures of the past new life

The handsome brick building at 607 Pennsylvania Ave. in West Baltimore has a proud history: It was the first integrated seminary in America, home of the religious order known as St. Joseph's Society for the Sacred Heart, or the American Josephites.

After a $4.9 million renovation, it also has a promising future. It recently reopened as Charles R. Uncles Senior Plaza, a 47-unit apartment complex for seniors. It's named after a Baltimore native who was the first African-American priest to get his ecclesiastical training in the United States.

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The conversion is one of 10 projects selected for awards this year from Baltimore Heritage, a citywide preservation advocacy group. The awards will be presented this week during the group's annual meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Montgomery Park, 1800 Washington Blvd.

The number of projects is a sign of the high volume of first-rate restoration and renovation projects being completed by a diverse mix of sponsors.

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"All around the city, renovators large and small are proving that preservation is Baltimore's future," said John Maclay, president of Baltimore Heritage. "At a time when we've been fighting to save the Odorite and other buildings, it feels good to be giving awards for people who've voluntarily done the right thing."

The Pennsylvania Avenue seminary was constructed in the late 1880s and is part of the Seton Hill historic district. It was turned into a nursing facility in the 1970s but became vacant 20 years later.

The conversion to apartments began in the late 1990s, when the building was acquired by the Druid Heights Community Development Corp. and Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the co-developers.

Cho, Benn, Holback + Associates was the architect, with George Holback as principal in charge, Cooper Gabriel as project architect and project manager, and Celso Guitian handling construction administration. Struever Bros. was contractor.

According to the architects, the goal of the project was to create a design that worked well for its new use and let the strength of the original building show through.

The renovation included the removal of all non-historic additions to the west and in the rear courtyard, and the construction of a four-story addition containing apartments.

Constructed on the east side of the building, the addition balances out a four-story wing on the west side that contains the former seminary chapel. It echoes the massing and colors of the west wing but was sensitively designed so it's clear it was built in a different century. The addition gives the Pennsylvania Avenue facade a symmetry it did not previously have. The addition also frames the rear courtyard to create the feeling of a private, cloistered garden. The original full-length porch was reconstructed off the ground floor lobby and overlooks the courtyard.

All of the historic windows on the front and side facades were restored or replaced with new wood windows to match the original configuration. The masonry was cleaned and repaired, and all metalwork and historic details were restored.

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The architects' goal for the interior was to make apartments and public areas as large and attractive as possible. One interior highlight is the restored vaulted ceiling of the seminary's chapel, now part of a multi-purpose room named after late humanitarian Bea Gaddy.

Other winners include:

Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, 847 N. Howard St. Cho, Benn, Holback + Associates, architect. Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, contractor.

Montgomery Park, the conversion of the former Montgomery Wards catalog building to offices on Washington Boulevard. Sam Himmelrich Jr. and David F. Tufaro head the development group. Werner Mueller of DMJM Architects as the lead architect. HOK Planning Group as the green building consultant. Inland Builders, contractor.

Marikle Chapel of the Annunciation, 4701 N. Charles St. College of Notre Dame of Maryland, owner. Murphy and Dittenhafer, architect. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., contractor.

Restoration of a private home at 1916 E. Pratt St. Clint and Mary Sloan Roby, owners. Michael Justin Dowling, architect. Skarda and Associates Inc., structural engineer, with Ed Smith as project designer. Michael Burdinski, contractor.

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The Irish Shrine and Railroad Workers Memorial, 918 to 920 Lemmon St. The Railroad Historical District Corp., owner and contractor. David H. Gleason Associates, architect.

The Village Learning Place, conversion to a learning center of a former Enoch Pratt Free Library branch at 2521 St. Paul St. Calvin Kern Kobsa and Kann & Associates, architects. Warwick Supply & Equipment Co. and Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc., contractors. Judith Smith, landscape architect.

The Congress Hotel, conversion of the historic hotel to 36 apartments at 306 W. Franklin St. Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, owner and contractor. Martinez and Johnson Architecture, architects.

Restoration of the Patterson Park Pagoda, near the northwest corner of Patterson Park. Owned by the city of Baltimore and restored by Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks and the Friends of Patterson Park. Kann & Associates, architect. Worcester Eisenbrandt, contractor.

A "Block by Block Award," given for a project that is being completed in stages over many years, will go to the housing renovation work in the 1800, 1900 and 2000 blocks of W. Baltimore St. Bon Secours Foundation of Maryland and Enterprise Homes are the owners. David H. Gleason Associates is the architect. Southway Builders is the contractor.

Preservation Honor Awards will go to D. Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland, for his leadership in saving the state's historic preservation tax credit program, and William J. O'Hara, for rehabilitation of the Rentco Apartments at 934-936 N. Calvert St.

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The Douglas H. Gordon Award for Preservation Advocacy will go to Romaine Somerville, president of the Baltimore City Historical Society and past executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point and Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, among other posts.

Baltimore Heritage also will be introducing its first full-time director, Johns W. Hopkins, a distant relative of the founder of the Johns Hopkins University. Today is his first day on the job.


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