In rallies on opposite sides of Mount Royal Avenue yesterday, University of Baltimore students formed a conga line on a campus plaza to support plans for a student center, while preservationists and community activists gathered to defend a vacant 1915 building due to be demolished for a starkly modern structure.
Third-year law student Peter M. Dolkart said it was high time for a student union at the commuter campus with about 5,000 students. "We're the only campus in the state system without a center. ... There is no focal point," he said. "We need a bookstore, a theater, office space for student groups - a structure with bricks and mortar."
But Johns Hopkins, director of Baltimore Heritage, said preservationists recognized the need for the center, but said it should not come at the cost of the mock Tudor-style former Monumental Motor Car auto dealership, also known as the Odorite. He complained that university officials were not to open to discussion.
"This is maddening," he said. "[University officials] are deafeningly silent."
University of Baltimore officials said the Odorite could be cleared from the southeast corner of Mount Royal and Maryland avenues as early as June.
Conflict over whether the state property in a city historic district should be torn down has been simmering for a year, driving a wedge between the university and many of its Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon neighbors.
Hopkins said he recently appealed to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to give the building a reprieve. A spokeswoman for the governor said yesterday that Ehrlich favors a compromise that would preserve some historic aspects of the Odorite while building the student center.
This month, university President Robert L. Bogomolny rejected the recommendation of the Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that a way be found to save the Odorite building and blend its walls and sidewalk-level showroom with a new structure. He wrote in a letter April 1 that a blended building is not "practicable, feasible or prudent," and estimated that the council proposal would add $1 million to $2 million to the state-funded $14 million project. He also stated the Odorite facade would not create a "signature building."
Harry Schwartz, a council member, said yesterday, "We think that's a specious argument. There was an alternative."
The student rally in support of the center was tied to the annual spring semester outdoor block party. To publicize the event, Susan Luchey, the university Center for Student Involvement director, sent a campuswide e-mail announcing the rally.
Two students walked across Mount Royal from the plaza to where the preservationists had congregated, one to join the protesters and one to shout at them.
Brandy Baker, 30, an English major, said, "I think [razing the building] shows a lack of respect."
A law student countered that view. "What is there to preserve?" said Charles Borchini, 24, who commutes by train from Burke, Va. "It isn't serving any purpose. You guys are obstructing my school."