A Baltimore historian who was killed Sunday when an Upton rowhouse collapsed was renovating the site into a neighborhood cultural center and had the city's permission to do so, officials confirmed yesterday.
Alvin Brunson, 49, won approval to take ownership of the home at 562 Wilson St. last year and turn it into an extension of the nonprofit Center for Cultural Education, which he directed, according to Board of Estimates records.
Brunson, named "Best Community Historian" by the Baltimore City Paper in 2005, had spent years working on the site as an attraction for young people and tourists to learn the history of the neighborhood, friends said.
Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development officials said Brunson was working in the basement of the home when it collapsed Sunday afternoon. City records show Brunson obtained a permit in February to reframe the walls and floor of the basement.
"No matter what the other facts are, this is very clearly a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Brunson family," said Paul T. Graziano, the city housing commissioner. "We are trying to get more facts."
Graziano said he did not know whether the property had been inspected recently or why state records still show the city of Baltimore as the owner of the property - seven months after the Board of Estimates approved its transfer.
Brunson was awarded a city grant of $16,500 for the project in October 2006. On July 25, 2007, he came before the Board of Estimates to claim the property. According to the minutes of that meeting, the city foreclosed on it "through circumstances not of [Brunson's] doing."
The board deferred the item and then approved the transfer in August.
As part of a program to claim ownership of thousands of vacant properties, the city sued in 2003 to foreclose because of unpaid taxes and a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge transferred the home to the city in 2004, court records show.
In contrast to earlier reports, it appears Brunson never sold the property to the city; instead, the city forgave $218,089 in overdue taxes and other fines on 11 properties, including 562 Wilson St. It is not clear why there is no record of Brunson ever owning the property.
Louis C. Fields, president of the Baltimore African American Tourism Council of Maryland and a friend of Brunson's, said he hoped the incident would spark a greater effort by the city to address its large inventory of vacant homes.
"He wanted to show that the history of Pennsylvania Avenue had a history important enough to save," Fields said. "That was his passion and the goal."
Sun reporter Tom Pelton contributed to this article.