Frank Gant, a retired architect who designed a bank in the shape of a Chesapeake Bay sailboat and later led the renovation of parts of the the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, died of congestive heart failure July 7 at Rockville General Hospital in Vernon, Conn. He was 78 and lived in downtown Baltimore.
Born in Baltimore and raised on South Schroeder Street in Pigtown, he was the son of Frank D. Gant, a member of the Merchant Marine, and his wife, Mary Ford. He attended St. Jerome School and was a graduate of Forest Park High School. He later took summer workshops in architecture at Harvard University.
He joined the Marine Corps and was trained in aerial photography. After his discharge, he became an apprentice at RTKL Architects, then located in Annapolis. He received an architect's license in 1973.
He was also a founder of Baltimore's Neighborhood Design Center.
Mr. Gant founded his own firm, Frank Gant Architects, in Severna Park in 1974. He soon gained recognition as the designer of the Annapolis Federal Savings and Loan Association at Parole. The building was recognized for its 70-foot-high white concrete sails over a large banking floor.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Gant and his staff received a series of commissions from the Johns Hopkins University. He was charged with renovating former Charles Village apartment buildings along Charles, St. Paul and 33rd streets.
"It is no small tribute to the special brand of architectural alchemy practiced by Frank Gant Architects, a seven-member Baltimore firm that is rapidly becoming one of the premier experts not just at saving old buildings but making them better than they ever were before," said a 1991 Baltimore Sun article.
Mr. Gant said he liked the challenge of finding new uses for old structures.
"This is one of the few urban neighborhoods in the country that has not been touched by modern architecture or 1960s-style urban renewal," said Mr. Gant, "It still looks essentially the same as it did in the 1930s."
The article noted his other work — the 1985 conversion of the apartment house at 101 W. Monument St. to the Peabody Court Hotel, the transformation of the Mount Royal Hotel to the International House apartments, and the adaptive reuse of the former Seton High School in Charles Village.
The 1991 article discussed his design style: "His signature is the dazzling entrance, the dramatic night lighting, the dynamite paint job and other touches that turn a borderline building into a memorable place, without being too extravagant."
He was also the architect of the Humanities Building on the Loyola University Maryland's Evergreen campus. He later designed a major wing and pro shop at Hayfields Country Club in Baltimore County.
"His clients loved him," said Jerry Martin, a friend from Federal Hill. "He was a practical guy. He could get in and swing a hammer when he needed to."
His current firm, Gant Brunnett Architects, was formed in 1998. He practiced in a West Mulberry Street townhouse facing the Basilica of the Assumption and lived on an upper floor. He also spent much of year living on a 40-foot sailboat in a Port Covington marina.
"Frank was strong-willed and creative in the same breath," said business partner John A. Brunnett, a Severna Park resident. "He never wore socks and worked in boat sandals and shorts. People hired him because of his charming personality, but he backed it up with real creativity."
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He added: "When a contractor said, 'That can't be built,' Frank would prove them wrong."
Mr. Gant was proud of his Irish heritage and oten wore a green kilt. Family members said he listened to stories from his maternal grandmother, Maude Jarboe Ford. He also made numerous trips to Ireland with friends from Baltimore.
A member of the Round Bay Sailing Club, he led sailing tours to Croatia and Greece. He also spent time in Paris with his wife.
"He enjoyed traveling and explored many architecturally interesting sites as he traveled the world," said his daughter, Cheryl Gant Nicholas of Tolland, Conn. "He was always open and generous sharing his insights on the architecture and built spaces. He would often pull out his sketch book to capture what he saw."
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. July 22 at the Hubbard Funeral Home, 4107 Wilkens Ave.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Kurt Gant of Easton; another daughter, Marcy Gant Schauber of Troutman, N.C.; a sister, Nina Lee of Delaware; a stepdaughter, Isabelle Richardson-Borfiga of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His wife, Linda Richardson, an engineer who worked with commercial-grade glass, died in 2009.