About 50 protesters rallied yesterday to save a 90-year-old former auto showroom in the city's historic Mount Vernon area from demolition.
The University of Baltimore plans to raze the vacant Odorite building at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues to make way for a $14 million, glass-front student center.
"This is the gateway to the Mount Vernon Historical District," said Donna Beth Joy Shapiro of Bolton Hill, one of the protesters at the site. "There won't be any history if they keep tearing down buildings."
Germaine Lanaux of Dickeyville, a student at the university, said the school would replace a historic structure with a "soulless building."
The preservationists urged the university to start the project with a restored Odorite building and expand from there. They want the university to review their architectural design, which calls for a ground-floor bookstore, a cafeteria on the second level and a rooftop terrace.
"We are not against the student union," said Johns Hopkins, director of Baltimore Heritage, a citywide preservation group. "We are asking that the university be a good neighbor. It can reuse a historical building and add to it contemporary architecture that fits with the historical district."
The Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has recommended that the university combine new construction with reuse of the Tudor-style building, which the state purchased in 1989 for expansion at the university. Built in 1915 as a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co., the building later housed the Odorite Co., a cleaning supplies business.
"We have been planning a student center for literally decades," said Peter Toran, vice president of planning for the University of Baltimore. "Our studies conclude that saving the building will add cost and decrease usable space."
The university is looking at the preservationists' plan to determine "if a 1915 building that showcased automobiles is suitable for the 21st century," he said.
"We are committed to the process," Toran said. "But delays add costs, and there will be another class that will not have a center. It is easy to say 'save a building' when someone else is paying for that effort."
Daniel Coleman of Baltimore, a university law student, said a student center is vital to the commuter school's sense of community. It will give students a place to congregate, organize clubs, study or access the Internet.
"Preservation means more expense for the school, and that will pinch the pockets of students," Coleman said. "We have already had a 30 percent increase in tuition over the past year. I don't see the benefit of preserving a former car lot and janitorial supply building."
One of the protesters, Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said, "People are investing in historic homes here and following all the rules to restore them. But, the state just wants to blow up a building in a historic district."