The reprieve was short-lived.
Preservationists who had hoped to save a row of buildings next to the old St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point watched helplessly yesterday as a wrecking crew, armed with freshly granted approval from the city, began taking apart one of the structures.
Last week, the workers were forced to postpone the demolition when told by City Councilman James B. Kraft that they lacked official approval of their plan to stabilize an 18th-century mansion that the preservationists hope will remain standing after the buildings on either side of it have been torn down.
That plan was finally approved by a city housing official Monday, although no wrecking ball appeared yesterday morning. The only activity visible from South Ann Street was two men with crowbars pulling down ceiling beams from a building that connects the abandoned church to the row of structures, once a parish school, on Aliceanna Street. The workers intended to use a large backhoe to bring down what was left of the so-called connector building by day's end.
At the same time, behind old walls and unseen from the street, another crew began shoring up the 18th-century mansion, known as the four-bay house because its unusual width is measured by the number of its contiguous windows. The mansion and the St. Stanislaus church are on a "special list" that preservationists hope will lead to their designation as historical landmarks.
Before the shoring-up process could begin yesterday, Kraft asked the wrecking crew foreman to show him the plan, a request that led to some friction. "'We're not here to litigate,'" Kraft said he told the foreman. "'I need to see the plan or it won't go forward.'"
Eventually, the foreman's supervisor, reached by telephone, consented to the councilman's request. Kraft said the workers expect to finish bracing the mansion's walls by Friday. A city housing inspector, Jim Blaylock, will examine the site to see whether the job was done correctly before signing off on it.
Kraft said a potential complication is that the demolition permit for the whole project expires Saturday, which gives the wrecking contractor little room for delays.
The Franciscan order that owns the buildings had hoped to clear the entire site so a developer could build condominium townhouses there. A spokesman for the friars, Father Joseph Benicewicz, treasurer of St. Anthony of Padua's province headquarters in Ellicott City, expressed frustration yesterday that the shoring contractor had been "ready to begin" on Thursday when the job was halted.
"Once the shoring work on the four-bay is completed," he said, "work can begin to demolish the other buildings."
Daniel A. Kuc, an interior designer and Fells Point resident, said he and other preservationists had not really lost the battle.
"Last year at this time there was no mention of saving the four-bay," he said. "If things had gone as planned for the developers and Franciscans, all of the buildings would be gone by now and the church would be gutted. Hopefully with whatever the new plan is, it won't be a complete clearing of the site as originally planned - or at least not all at once."