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Many city buildings grew from Baldwin's imagination

YEARS AGO I realized that a lightly known man named E. Francis Baldwin cast a long shadow. He was the architect who designed so much of the Baltimore we love.

When my Aunt Dorothy chaperoned me on my first train ride at age 4, we alighted from a Baltimore & Ohio coach at the graceful old Mount Royal Station, a building Mr. Baldwin gave us.

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I sat through many a history and philosophy lecture in grand Baldwin buildings at Catholic University in Northeast Washington, often more taken by his masonry arches and oak paneling than by what the professor had to say. And didn't I endure half my childhood at another Baldwin project, the 1888 Hutzler Brothers department store on Howard Street, while my mother, grandmother and her sister selected dress patterns, cotton, wool, buttons and zippers?

The other day, on a quick jaunt through Pigtown, I spotted one of Baldwin's more cavernous endeavors, the Carroll Park streetcar barns of the old United Railways and Electric Co., perhaps best known as the MTA's big bus barn. Baldwin also gave us the B&O;'s circular car shops at Pratt and Poppleton streets, now happily, and speedily, being rebuilt.

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After many years of anticipation, Baldwin has been found out. Rockville physicist Carlos P. Avery spent several decades reading microfilmed newspapers and combing through assorted archives. His productive labors enrich a new paperback volume, E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O;, Baltimore and Beyond.

It is just the sort of book I devour; it's heavy on delicious research and short on highbrow theory. In other words, it tells you plenty without imparting attitude.

The other day, after an evening spent reading this book, I trotted off to the bank to pay the September mortgage. Walking along Charles, St. Paul and a couple other Mount Vernon area streets, I kept saying to myself, "Well, there's another of [Baldwin's] places." How many times have I passed a merchant's limestone urban palace and wondered what fat cat lived there in the Rutherford B. Hayes era? Well, on many a street, I now know.

This book is clearly a labor of love. The best parts, of course, are the minutiae, those little details that tell you volumes. I think of the extensive listings of buildings that once stood due south of Camden Station, near the city dog pound. There was once a railroad village here known as Bailey's, now all gone. And what about the long vanished Maryland & Pennsylvania station at North Avenue and Howard Street?

Perhaps the man behind Baldwin was his chief builder, the man who won the contract to put up what seems like half of Victorian Baltimore. This was John Stack, who at least gets his name on a plaque attached to the Roland Park Water Tower, one of the few structures Baldwin did not design.

Stack, who lived on Bolton Street, was the father of Placide Stack Morris, my first- and fourth-grade arithmetic teacher. Mrs. Morris was a strict and excellent presence in the classroom. I think her father's hand showed in her teaching techniques.

Works of solid research are time consuming and expensive. We should thank the author, the B&O; Museum, the Baltimore Architecture Foundation and the Baldwin descendants who helped underwrite this permanent addition to our local library.


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