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New plan would save Odorite building

They claimed it couldn't be done.

After spending months of study and thousands in architects' fees, leaders of the University of Baltimore said they couldn't think of a way to save the historic Odorite building as part of the student center they want to build at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues. They wouldn't even commit to preserving the building's two most prominent facades.

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But now a local preservation group and a Washington-based architect have come up with a detailed plan that shows it's possible not only to preserve the entire building but actually improve on it for continued use by the university's students and faculty.

This new plan, by Davis Buckley Architects and Planners of Washington for Baltimore Heritage Inc., would enhance the 1915 building by turning it into a bookstore and convenience store and giving it a handsome rooftop dining pavilion and terrace that would overlook the primary gathering space on campus, Gordon Plaza.

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It also would give the campus a stronger presence on the city skyline by including a seven-level addition with a traditional bell or clock tower visible from blocks away.

In all, the plan provides even more space than the $13.9 million, five-story structure that the university wants to throw up in place of the Odorite building, originally a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co. And the architects came up with it in less than a month.

"The university has argued for years that saving the Odorite building is not possible," said Thomas J. Cosgrove, an attorney for Baltimore Heritage Inc., a preservation group that has sued the university to block demolition of the building. "In just a few weeks, we've proven that this is not true, that the building can be saved and even improved on."

"We were asked if there was an alternative to demolition. That was our task," said architect Davis Buckley. "And after looking at it, we say yes, we think there is. One can argue about architectural expressions, but in terms of meeting the university's space needs, we think we've come up with a reasonable approach."

The design marks the second time in three months that a preservation-oriented group has put its money where its mouth is in an attempt to save an endangered building.

In November, some residents of Mount Vernon pooled funds and submitted the winning bid at auction for the MacGillivray's pharmacy building on Charles Street, to prevent any other buyers from tearing it down.

In December, Baltimore Heritage asked Buckley, an award-winning architect who studied at Yale University and heads a 15-person office, to take an objective look at the Odorite building to see if it could be adapted to meet the university's needs. It is paying him $3,000 - not enough to cover all the time and resources his staff put in, but enough to cover some expenses.

The university wants a student center with a bookstore, convenience store, dining area, 200-seat recital hall, lounges, recreation space, meeting rooms and offices for student groups. Its planners want it to be at the southeast corner of Maryland and Mount Royal avenues, where the vacant Odorite building stands, but say they could never fit everything they want to build into the shell of the two-story Odorite building.

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Buckley concluded that the Elizabethan-Tudor-style building could be saved - and expanded to meet the university's needs - by adding structures to the east and on the roof.

He and his colleagues recommend turning the bulk of the Odorite building, with its large plate-glass windows, into the campus bookstore. They would put the convenience store along Maryland Avenue, where it could be operated at different hours from the bookstore, if necessary.

Buckley would use the Odorite building's basement for shipping and receiving, storage, mechanical equipment and other nonpublic uses. Its second level would have more sales space, offices, a lounge and a post office.

On the roof, the architects added a glass-enclosed dining pavilion with a pitched roof that seems to be an extension of the Odorite building's existing sloped roof. The pavilion would be set back from the north and west walls, leaving room for a terrace providing sweeping views of the city.

Buckley said he believes using the Odorite building's roof as a glass-enclosed dining spot would be preferable to a street-level cafe because it would lift people above cars and their exhaust fumes and offer a new vantage point from which to view the campus.

"A bookstore is a natural gathering place," he said. "To have a dining facility above it, we thought, is a compelling use for the building.

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"Can you imagine sitting on the terrace and looking out on a wonderful spring day? There would be a wonderful openness to it."

To create additional space, the architects recommend that the university construct a seven-story addition on the parking lot just east of the Odorite building, with connections to the Odorite's lower levels. The recital hall would be on the addition's first level and basement, so people could get to it without crowding into an elevator. The third level would be part of the dining area. Other levels would house student offices and meeting rooms, lounges and recreation areas - all the elements on the university's list.

This center would have 64,847 gross square feet of space - slightly more than the 62,325 gross square feet under a plan by Murphy & Dittenhafer for an all-new building.

Buckley said the addition could be designed to have a transitional skin that would be compatible with the Odorite building and the rest of the historic district. He said the tower could be a bell tower or clock tower or both - a new symbol for the campus.

Buckley said he is familiar with Baltimore because he has a daughter who graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and he has attended cultural events at the Lyric and other venues. He said he wasn't sure initially whether the Odorite building could be saved. But after his first visit, he said, he was convinced it was possible and worked through the Christmas holidays to draw up the plan.

The design will be presented as part of a court hearing scheduled to take place later this week to determine whether the university has the legal authority to tear down the Odorite building. Buckley has been called to testify as an expert witness.

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But it shouldn't be merely an academic exercise. This is the best plan to date for a University of Baltimore student center. It saves the Odorite building and brings it into the 21st century. It contains everything the university wants, in places that make sense. It helps give the university a new image and a presence on the skyline. It reinforces Gordon Plaza. With its sensitive blend of old and new, it would instantly be the best building on the University of Baltimore campus, by far.

Buckley said he hopes his work makes a difference in the court case.

"We usually close our office over the holidays," he said. "'But people in the office felt strongly enough about this that we didn't this year. Architects and planners have an obligation, when asked to look at something compelling, to step to the plate, and we did."


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