While wandering down Charles Street this week, I spotted a carpenter carrying a new door into a commercial building Baltimoreans will recognize, depending upon their age, as the Mount Vernon Restaurant or Gampy's. I've put in plenty of time at dinner tables at both locations.

It's been regrettable that this building at 904 N. Charles St. has been boarded up for a decade. Its lengthy closure broadcast an unfortunate message along this part of Charles Street, which frankly should be doing a lot better than it is. It's also a high-visibility restaurant location. I've scratched my head why this spot, along with that of the old Chesapeake Restaurant, has suffered such a prolonged vacancy.

I stuck my head inside the cavernous space and was soon greeted by Dr. Douglas Clemens, a pediatric dentist who owns the building along with attorney Charles Morton. He told me he's overseen the renovation of more than 100 homes in Federal Hill and is now overseeing the transformation of this memory-filled building.

I've often thought that the return of much of Baltimore to sound economic and physical health is really the story of the refurbishment of a thousand rowhouses, one by one, block by block. This one, at 904 N. Charles, is a special case.

It's in a good commercial location, but, depending upon how you view it, the address might be too small for a big developer - and at 20,000 square feet, too large for many small rowhouse fixer-uppers. Added to this, it lies squarely within the Mount Vernon Historic District, which means restrictions, but also historic tax credits.

In a few minutes I was being shown the space where a restaurant kitchen will go, the bar, the seating area and the dessert cases. Clemens said the new tenant is Marie Louise Ransome Catering, which is now located in Federal Hill. A French-style bistro is planned for opening later this summer. I liked the restaurant space's new pressed-tin ceilings, which reminded me of my own kitchen as well as the house where I was raised.

I also thought of the day - When? Maybe 10 years ago? - when I watched construction workers gut the old Gampy's interior and pull out the rusty tin ceilings of another era. Clemens said that once his team got working on what must have been the accumulated grease associated with uncounted hamburgers and meatloaf dinners, he found a parquet floor that had been laid on top of wall-to-wall carpeting. "Somebody must have been in a hurry that day," he told me.

Before long, Clemens was showing me the completed part of this handsome little complex, the 11 apartments (opened May 1 and all occupied by lawyers, doctors, and MICA and Peabody students) that have been created on the upper floors (some housed in a dramatic rooftop addition) as well as an L-shaped leg of a separate building at 4-6 W. Read St.

The rebirth of 904 and its Read Street adjunct building must seem like a victory for the residents in the neighborhood who want to keep their beloved Mount Vernon a low-rise haven.

For my part, I just like having another place to have a meal and think back to all those cozy little booths at the old Mount Vernon, the art deco lights and the chicken croquettes.


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