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Kelly: The outcry to save Martick's

After an architect and consulting engineer made the case why the old Martick’s restaurant would be too costly and difficult to preserve, a spontaneous revolt occurred before the city’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation a few days ago.

It was an outcry to save the fondly remembered Mulberry Street building whose legacy remains so vivid.

“How many times do people stand up and applaud at a hearing?” asked Ruth Turner, a former Martick’s waitress. “Martick’s is not a grandiose building. But it’s a Baltimore cultural gem.”

James Rouse, the son of Columbia’s developer, spoke “as a private citizen.” He recalled his time there as a waiter and how the irascible owner, Morris Martick, used unorthodox business practices.

He also described the quirky owner’s response when a new customer inquired what he recommended on the menu. “Morris would say, ‘I recommend you try another restaurant.’ ”

A development team now working on the site — just to the west of the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library and the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Assumption — wants to put an apartment building in the 400 block of Park Avenue. The developers are proposing to save a group of former Asian restaurants on the block, as well as an old Baltimore Gas and Electric substation that faces the Tyson Street alley.

Using photos and renderings, the developer, Park Avenue Partners, showed how the Martick structure had deteriorated and why it was a poor fit for their larger plans.

But the Martick faithful were having no part of this. It seems as if this corner saloon has a long history of making trouble downtown.

City planner Stacy Montgomery wrote in a preservation report that “[Martick’s] served as a small saloon, tavern, or restaurant with housing above it since the late 19th century. … In the first two decades of the 20th century, there were at least six different people operating a saloon out of the premises. The establishment was raided by the police at least three times. In 1905, saloon owner Michael A. Drinand was taken into police custody.”

Montgomery also wrote that by the 1920s, when Mulberry Street was home to an Asian community, “the businesses along Mulberry Street were regularly raided for illegal gambling, operating opium dens, and violating the Volstead Act.”

Her research showed that in 1917 Harry and Florence Martick opened a small grocery store in the building.

“The Marticks were Jewish Polish immigrants with five children, all of whom were raised in the house on Mulberry Street.” she wrote. “There are varying accounts of the nature of the business during the Prohibition era. While an account in Florence Martick’s obituary states that the family ran a grocery store until the repeal of Prohibition, their son Morris told several reporters that his family ran a speakeasy out of the kitchen.”

Morris Martick, who operated his French-style restaurant there for more than 40 years, was born in 1923 in the building’s second floor.

“He lived in the house for the majority of his 88 years, with the exception of the years he spent in the Aleutian Islands during World War II and his time in France in 1967,” Montgomery wrote. “[His] unique personality and creativity made his small family bar a popular destination for almost sixty years. In the late 1940s, Martick’s bar catered to a mix of artists, musicians, journalists, working Joes and assorted self-styled bohemians, beats and hipsters.”

She noted how Leonard Bernstein played the bar’s piano and Billie Holiday sang with the house jazz band during a 1959 visit.

The future of the Martick property will be debated — CHAP has delayed a decision on it — as the Howard Street-Park Avenue corridor of downtown Baltimore emerges after years of stagnation and falling real estate worth.

But don’t count on the little saloon at 214 W. Mulberry going away without a loud bar fight.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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