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Modernized learning center still wears police badge of Ostend St. past

Since 1896, the brick and stone police station at 28 E. Ostend St. has lent an air of permanence and stability to its South Baltimore neighborhood, an enduring character that newer buildings can't match.

That sense of permanence is stronger than ever today, after a $2.3 million restoration and modernization by the South Baltimore Learning Center, a community-based adult literacy organization now located there.

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For their efforts to keep the ambience and details of the historic police station in their conversion, the learning center directors and their design and construction team have been selected to receive one of 11 Preservation Project Awards that will be presented this year by Baltimore Heritage, a citywide preservation advocacy group.

The award is a particular tribute to learning center executive director Sonia Socha, who insisted on taking a preservation-oriented approach when others said it couldn't be done. Stuart Macklin was the architect, and Southway Builders was the contractor.

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For Socha, the conversion wasn't just about saving an old building. It was about saving a piece of Baltimore history.

"I always knew this building had karma," she said. "It wasn't just a jail. It was a youth center. It was a courthouse. It had a police athletic league. It had a boxing ring and a gymnasium. The community revolved around it."

Socha said she was heavily influenced by anecdotes from people who had visited the building over the years.

"I have heard so many of the stories told by those ... who have been in the court, in the jail, in the police gymnasium, in the shooting range, who played in the Boys' Club, who boxed in the ring on the third floor, who ate the egg sandwiches given to them by the police from the corner greasy spoon, and who ... remembered the paddy wagons coming and going from the back door."

Given all that, she said, "someone had to save this building."

The awards dinner will start at 6 p.m. June 22 inside the Mount Royal Train Station on the Maryland Institute College of Art campus, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street. For ticket information, call 410-332-9992.

It's probably not much of an exaggeration to say that behind every one of these award-winning projects is one or more people as passionate about their ventures as Socha was about hers.

Other winners are: the Catholic Review Building, 880 Park Ave., with the Cathedral Foundation as the owner, Murphy & Dittenhafer as the architect and James Knott Construction Co. as the contractor; Firehouse No. 5, conversion of a former city firehouse on North Avenue to a maintenance facility for the Maryland Institute College of Art, with Cho Benn Holback + Associates as the architects and Kajima Construction Services Inc. as the contractor; and Foundry on Fort, a commercial development inside an old foundry at 921 Fort Ave., with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse as the owner and contractor, and Cho Benn Holback as the architect.

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Also, the Munsey Building at 7 N. Calvert St., converted from offices to apartments, with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse as the owner and contractor and Design Collective as the architect; and The Chateau, restoration of an apartment house at 903 Druid Park Lake Drive, with Pennrose Properties as the owner, Cho Benn Holback as the architect and Harkins Builders as the contractor.

The preservation group is also honoring the restorations of two churches: Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, 2200 St. Paul St., with Henry Lewis Contractors as the contractor and Kann & Associates as the architect; and the St. David's Episcopal Church, 4700 Roland Ave., with Frank M. Harvey Construction Co. as the contractor and Murphy & Dittenhafer as the architect.

It is also honoring restoration of three residences: Cedarwood, the home of Charles and Mary Kathryn Nabit, at 4604 N. Charles St., with Wallenstein Construction as the contractor; the home of Gina and Daniel Hirshhorn, 800 E. Lake Ave., with David H. Gleason Associates as the architect and Lidco Construction as the contractor; and the Thomas Dixon-Stirling House, 1815 Thornbury Road in Mount Washington, with Matthew Richardson as owner, designer and lead contractor.

"Block by Block" awards, recognizing multi-year projects in the early stages, will go to the Henry Thompson Room at Clifton Mansion, 2701 Saint Lo Drive, and the Copy Cat Building, 2443 N. Charles St.

Preservation honor awards will go to the Patterson Center for the Arts at 3134 Eastern Ave., owned by the Creative Alliance; the Woman's Industrial Exchange of Baltimore, 333 N. Charles St.; and historian Matthew Mosca, a nationally known expert on historic paint finishes and restoration.

The Douglas H. Gordon Award for preservation advocacy will go to John Maclay, a former president of Baltimore Heritage and publisher of books on architecture.

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An award for advancing preservation advocacy and law in Baltimore will go to eight people who played key roles in an unsuccessful effort to save from demolition the Odorite building on Mount Royal Avenue. They are: Davis Buckley, Thomas Cosgrove, Kelly Jaske, Germaine Lanaux, Andrew Lewis, Milo Meacham, Donna Beth Joy Shapiro and Paul Warren.


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