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Annapolis' preservation chief is retiring, leaving a solid foundation

The Baltimore Sun

Donna Hole stood in the heat and humidity yesterday with a contractor, looking over the dingy house on Randall Street across from the Randall House and the Flag House Inn.

The light-yellow house with green trim is a former single-family home that was renovated into two duplexes with four apartment units. The paint has faded, and the green wooden porch shows signs of wear.

A neighbor from across the street calls over and tells Hole that a potential buyer decided not to buy the inn because he didn't want to look out everyday at "that," pointing to the worn house.

"There is help for this place," Hole cheerfully yells back to the neighbor.

Though just days from retirement, Hole is still on the job.

Hole, a 62-year-old architectural history cop who has worked for the city for 15 years, will retire at the end of the month. As chief of historic preservation, Hole works as a liaison between the Historic Preservation Commission and property owners, developers and architects, ensuring that commission rules aimed at preserving the character of the cityscape are followed.

"It's this constant balancing act," Hole said. "You feel like you're being pulled in three different directions."

Hole's office has hints of the many museums she has visited. Artwork ranging from impressionistic drawings and paintings to a large photo of the Salisbury Cathedral in England hang on the walls. Blueprints rest neatly on her desk. On a small table, brochures and booklets sit impeccably arranged in columns, almost domino-like. Every Post-It note and pencil is in its proper place.

As the commission's first historic preservation chief, Hole set the standards for the position and lightened the load for her successor, Mayor Ellen Moyer said.

"It's always a fun position to be in, but it's also a very challenging position," the mayor said.

Sharon Kennedy, chairwoman of the preservation commission, concurred.

"She really had to invent the job because she was new," Kennedy said.

Many first-time homeowners in the historic district aren't familiar with the rules, Kennedy said. They need help figuring out how to navigate the commission guidelines and application process.

"They want to make their house their home," Kennedy said. "Many times their first idea has to change. Over the last 15 years, she's worked very hard on getting homeowners to a 'Yes.'"

Hole also has worked to preserve the city's cultural heritage, said Janice Hayes-Williams, a local historian. She noted how Hole helped with the acquisition of $390,000 in city money for the Maynard-Burgess House, which is significant because it was purchased by a free black man in 1845.

Hole's departure is "going to be a great loss in terms of local preservation," Hayes-Williams.

On Randall Street, Hole gives contractor Michael S. Gallatin the required forms to make changes to the house, as well as quick lesson in siding.

"Is that German siding?" Gallatin asks, pointing to a house across the street.

Hole corrects him.

"That's lap siding," she said, marked by boards that overlap one another.

"Do you think they did a good job of restoration?" Gallatin asked pointing to another house.

"I hope so -- it belongs to the former chairman of the HPC," she quipped.

Hole's travels helped shape her career. A year after graduating from what is now Towson University with a bachelor's degree in history, she married Douglas Hole, who was in the Air Force in 1968.

She worked at the National Security Agency before volunteering at the Smithsonian Institution, where she gave tours to schoolchildren. While working there, she saw a picture of the Ipswich House, a historic home in Maine.

"I looked at that and thought, 'That is so cool,'" Hole said.

That's when it hit her -- Hole knew she had to have a job that combined her passions for history and architecture.

The Holes moved to Denver in 1972. She worked at the Molly Brown House, giving tours while dressed in late 19th-century garb.

The Holes moved to Montgomery, Ala., in 1975, and she earned a master's in history at Auburn University. She studied the history of the South and wrote papers about architecture. Over the years, the many moves necessitated by her husband's military career resulted in the couple living in several places around the country, as well as in Denmark and Germany.

"It's very hard to sustain a career when you're an officer's wife," Hole said.

But after her husband retired, Hole was hired by the city in 1992 and moved to Annapolis.

Back on Randall Street, Hole puts her architectural sleuthing skills to work to gauge when the house was built. Gallatin needs her expertise to ensure that renovations he wants to make are true to the structure, style and feel of the era when the house was built.

Hole believes the house is early 20th-century, but says she'll have to check insurance documents to be sure.

Gallatin asks about the singles, guessing that they are not from the same period as the house.

"Those shingles are typical of the 1930s," Hole said. Singles from the '30s and '40s are more durable and last longer than today's shingles, she told him.

Gallatin is interested in adding rails to the house but doesn't want to add rails and then find out they are from the wrong period. He also asked about changing the color of the house, but she tells him that the commission doesn't regulate color.

"It's kind of personal, and it can be reversed," she said.

Hole looks at the porch for more clues to the era of the house. She looks up at the slim white boards on the ceiling of the porch and the columns. The columns are somewhat telling, she said. That style was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

"But it was the two dormers that was making me think it was early 20th century," she said. "They have a boxy shape. So it's a little transitional."

After piling up the clues, the architectural sleuth has her theory -- Hole said she believes the house was built between 1890 and 1910.

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