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Former Baltimore bank holds a key to neighborhood


Will the Old Goucher Historic District become Baltimore's next hot neighborhood?

The answer could depend on what happens to one of the district's most prominent buildings when it goes up for auction next week.

The former headquarters of the Federal Land Bank of Baltimore, built starting in 1926 at 2315 St. Paul St., will be offered for sale at 2 p.m. Dec. 14.

Now largely vacant, the six-story structure is one of the largest office buildings in the historic district where Goucher College operated before moving to Baltimore County in the 1940s.

The Old Goucher district is a transitional area between two thriving city neighborhoods, Mount Vernon and Charles Village. It is filled with impressive architecture, including several former Goucher buildings and a church designed by noted architect Stanford White.

The Federal Land Bank building is "one of the premier properties in the old Goucher campus district," said Paul Cooper, vice president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers, the company handling the sale. "It's a beautiful area. It has a lot of potential."

As designed by Wyatt and Nolting, the Federal Land Bank was a neo-Classical structure that rose two stories, with a limestone front and four Ionic columns framing the main entrance. Four stories were added in 1933 in a reconstruction designed by Taylor and Fisher.

With its limestone facades, the building stands out among the many brick structures built for the old Women's College of Baltimore, renamed Goucher College in 1910.

The Federal Land Bank later became known as the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore, and moved to Hunt Valley in 1980 to be closer to the farmers the banks serve.

The St. Paul Street building was acquired that year for $800,000 by Whitman, Requardt and Associates, an architectural and engineering firm. Whitman Requardt moved in 2002 to a new building near Fells Point.

That same year, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center purchased the building for $1.05 million with the idea of creating a hub for nonprofit groups that serve children. The children's center was unable to obtain funding to carry out an ambitious plan to upgrade the building and sold it to a group headed by investor Neil Katz. The auction is a voluntary sale on behalf of Katz's group.

Although the building has contained offices throughout its history, it also would be suitable for housing. Several years ago, the Baltimore architectural firm of Kann and Associates drew up plans showing that it could be converted to 71 apartments.

Architect Donald Kann said his office explored the feasibility of a housing conversion for a nonprofit group called Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, which was working on a revitalization plan for the area. Diakon did not proceed with the project but is still active in the area.

Kann said he believes the building could be a good location for housing, but it shouldn't be renovated in isolation.

"The issue is broader than that building," he said. "It's 'What is the future of Calvert Street and St. Paul Street and Charles Street below 25th Street?' ... The city needs to figure out how to move forward."

Kann's firm was the architect for the restoration of White's Lovely Lane United Methodist Church at St. Paul and 22nd streets and the recent conversion of Goucher Hall at 2220 St. Paul St. to the new home of Baltimore Lab, a division of the Lab School of Washington.

He said he believes apartments in the former Land Bank headquarters could be marketed to people who want to live near the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University, Pennsylvania Station or downtown.

He noted that some apartments in Charles Village are disappearing as purchasers convert multi-family homes back to single-family residences and suggested that any shortage of apartments in Charles Village may make people more willing to consider living south of 25th Street, an area sometimes called "Lower Charles Village."

He also noted that because the Land Bank building is in a historic district, developers would be eligible for tax credits for historic preservation.

The Goucher district is a key to strengthening the area between the Inner Harbor and Hopkins, he added. "It's the hole in the doughnut. If you can revitalize that community, you can link communities [to the north and south] that are doing OK."

Marks Thomas moving

Another former Goucher building will lose a key occupant when the architecture firm of Marks, Thomas & Associates moves later this month from 2300 N. Charles St., its home for the past 17 years, to offices in the South Harbor Business Center at 1414 Key Highway.

The Charles Street building is a former dormitory for Goucher students, previously known as Glitner Hall. It will become a "mini police station" and a human-services facility.

Founded 37 years ago, Marks Thomas has been part of the design team for several buildings along Key Highway, including the Lutheran Center, the HarborView apartments, the Ritz Carlton condominiums and principal Paul Marks' residence near Federal Hill.

AIA Gold Medal

Architect-engineer-artist Santiago Calatrava has been selected to receive the 2005 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor the group confers on an individual.

Calatrava's work includes the cathedral-like World Trade Center Transportation Hub, a $2 billion structure that will link commuter trains and subway lines at the former World Trade Center site in New York, and the Olympic Stadium, Agora and Nations Wall for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Calatrava, who has offices in Switzerland, France, Spain and the United States, is the 61st AIA gold medalist, joining such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei and Cesar Pelli. He will be presented with the Gold Medal at the Accent on Architecture Gala on Feb. 11 at the National Building Museum in Washington.

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