Historic rowhouses make way for hospital expansion

Cranes ripped through a block of 1820s-era row homes on St. Paul Place in downtown Baltimore yesterday, reducing the historic buildings to brick piles after a months-long debate over whether they should have been preserved.

Demolition got under way early yesterday, weeks after preservationists dropped their fight to save the houses - some of the oldest in downtown - and work will continue for another three to four weeks. Mercy Medical Center plans to build a $292 million inpatient facility on the site.


"We're losing yet another set of important historic buildings. This is a real loss for our African-American heritage and the heritage for our whole city," said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, which had led the earlier effort to save the homes.

Unlike the attention that surrounded the demolition of the 100-year-old Rochambeau apartment building last year, no one came out to witness the razing as crews with Baltimore-based Potts & Callahan Inc. began pulling the homes apart. Large cranes quickly tore through the brick structures, throwing dust into the air along the 300 block of St. Paul Place.


Mercy officials have stressed the importance of the project, noting that it will bring millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to Baltimore. Hospital officials commissioned a photographic record of the homes and have promised to install a display in the new tower commemorating the site.

The city granted Mercy a permit to demolish the homes in December after the City Council removed the structures from a list of notable properties in the central business district - a move that allowed the hospital to raze the buildings without a one-year deliberation process.

Preservations appealed the permit and the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation granted the homes "city landmark" status and tried to prevent demolition for several months. But Baltimore Heritage dropped its opposition this month, arguing that the process was becoming too costly and time-consuming.

In addition to their age, the homes were a significant piece of history for African-Americans. The first school in the city to grant degrees to blacks was housed in the homes. And in the early 1900s, whites and blacks - including former slaves - lived side by side in the strip of homes, even though city law at the time kept blocks racially segregated..

Workers said they expect to have the buildings mostly down today.