Robert L. Eney, a pioneering Fells Point preservationist who championed the neighborhood's architecture, died of complications from dementia Sunday. He was 87.
"Bob was truly one of a kind," said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. "Smart, energetic, talented; he had it all and was just such a great guy. ...The history in Fells Point was his passion, and the people of Fells Point were his pals.
"He loved being down by the waterfront. We can see his mark on so many things, from the Admiral Fell Inn to helping Bertha find her mussels," the senator said. "He helped me find my own home on Ann Street, a home that meant so much to me, and helped me furnish it with unique items, like chairs from the ladies' shoe department at Hutzler's."
"Bob was so enthusiastic, and persuasive, he could turn a slum landlord into a preservationist," said Tony Norris, his caregiver.
Mr. Eney resided in the home of Mr. Norris and his wife, Laura, founders of Bertha's Mussels. He previously lived many years on Fell Street and in Greektown.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Dundalk, he was the son of Milton L. Eney, a Bethlehem Steel inspector and Sparrows Point business owner, and Viola Hare.
A graduate of Sparrows Point High School, he took Saturday courses at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He served in the Army during the Korean War.
"Bob was dyslexic, and college didn't work for him," said Mr. Norris, who said Mr. Eney recalled being fascinated by Fells Point's architecture as a child.
"He told me he'd take the trolley in from Dundalk and immerse himself in the architecture," said Mr. Norris.
Skilled in drawing and painting, Mr. Eney went to New York and became a visual display artist for the Lord & Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue. He painted murals and designed its window displays.
While in New York, he met his partner, John C. Gleason. Both shared an interest in early East Coast architecture and began visiting old cities from Georgia to Maine. They had plans to write a book about American cities, and visited Baltimore in 1964.
They settled here after a few years and initially resided in Bolton Hill. Mr. Eney became head of design and display for the old Hochschild Kohn department store.
According to a 1970 Baltimore Sun article: "All along they had a dream of finding an old house and restoring it with the authority of their research."
They spent weekends collecting woodwork from homes in Maryland and Delaware that were being demolished or altered, and stockpiled their inventory in Mr. Eney's mother's garage in Dundalk.
They joined the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill, Montgomery Street and Fells Point in 1967 as the neighborhood was being condemned for a federal highway.
They found a pair of Fell Street houses, built about 1815, which they bought and renovated using some of the woodwork they had collected. They completed the project with no guarantee their home would not be condemned.
"Bob Eney was a great preservationist of Baltimore," said former state Sen. Julian "Jack" Lapides. "Though not very wealthy, he put his money where his mouth was at the time the neighborhood was threatened by the highway condemnation. His investment made a statement. He deserves tremendous credit."
"When the fight against the road started, we had Bob helping to spearhead the historic preservation of Fells Point," said Senator Mikulski.
In an oral history and filmed reminiscence, Mr. Eney recalled coming to Fells Point and initially encountering skepticism from longtime residents who did not know what to make of the newfound attention being paid to streets the city called an "industrial slum" in condemnation proceedings
He said he encountered wariness, but found some of the children of those families who lived there soon became preservation converts. The highway plans were ultimately scrapped.
"Bob loved these houses, and a half a dozen people have stopped me on the streets and said, 'I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him,'" said Joanne Mazurek, who with her husband, Andrew, restored a house on Ann Street. "We were young and stumbling, and Bob helped us get a grant and he drew our blueprints."
In the mid-1970s, after the city bowed to pressure and dropped its plan for a highway along the Fells Point waterfront, it found itself with 78 vacant properties scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer introduced Mr. Eney at a 1977 City Hall news conference — the mayor named him a consultant and pointed to his knowledge of Fell Point's early architecture.
Mr. Eney created a design guideline booklet for the restoration of the 78 buildings.
Andrew Mazurek purchased his family's home from the city after it had been taken by condemnation.
"Bob loved these houses. If you had a question about a piece of molding, he would draw something on a napkin as he sat in a bar. He was an amazing person," said Mr. Mazurek.
Mr. Eney also led restoration of the Robert Long House, a 1765 structure built by a Baltimore merchant who helped supply the Continental Army.
Friends recalled Mr. Eney's sharp wit and his abundant sense of humor.
"He was one of my favorite dance partners, along with Jack Gleason, at the Preservation Balls," said Senator Mikulski. "His idea of fun was having ouzo shooters at Mike Glyphis' bar or seeing John Waters at Edith's Shopping Bag."
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
Survivors include a niece, Lisa Eney Robinson of Delphi, N.Y. His partner of three decades, John C. Gleason Sr., died in 1992.