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A Baltimore expert in restoring historic houses says Woodberry homes should be rebuilt

Looking south at the rubble remaining from the demolition of two historic stone mill houses at 3511 and 3523 Clipper Road. The demolition on Tuesday morning took Woodberry residents and preservationists by surprise.
Looking south at the rubble remaining from the demolition of two historic stone mill houses at 3511 and 3523 Clipper Road. The demolition on Tuesday morning took Woodberry residents and preservationists by surprise. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

While some might take a wrecking ball to old buildings in Baltimore, Marty Azola has been saving them and figuring out new uses for them over the last half-century, and he thinks the two 1840s Woodberry houses that were knocked down this week could — and should — be rebuilt.

Azola is the CEO and chairman of the company that bears his name. An engineer by training and a passionate preservationist, he’s considered an expert in adaptive reuse of buildings, and, over the last 50 years, he’s taken some apart and put them back together, stone by stone and beam by beam.

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Marty Azola has been renovating, relocating and rebuilding old buildings in the Baltimore area for 50 years.
Marty Azola has been renovating, relocating and rebuilding old buildings in the Baltimore area for 50 years. (Baltimore Sun)

“Bad situation, but the [Woodberry] houses can and should be rebuilt,” Azola wrote in a letter Thursday to Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland. “As you probably know, we moved and rebuilt several stone houses over the years.”

Azola’s impressive portfolio includes Taylor’s Hall, one of the oldest houses in Baltimore County, dating to the late 1600s. Azola dismantled the house, numbered every stone and log, and then reassembled the structure on a one-acre lot in Brooklandville's Rockland Village.

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Azola also took apart, relocated, reassembled and expanded the Stephen Cockey House, dating from the 1720s in Greenspring Valley. He also rebuilt and restored the historic George Ellicott House in Ellicott City, and here’s how he describes the successful engineering formula: “We used two-by-twelve studs for the basic frame, surrounded by a 12-inch original stone veneer to replicate the full 24-inch wall thickness. That allowed the frame, floors and roof to be run up immediately.”

Azola rebuilt the George Ellicott House, one of the few buildings constructed by the city's founders that survived floods caused by Tropical Storm Agnes. Preservationists had the building moved to higher ground across the street from its original location.
Azola rebuilt the George Ellicott House, one of the few buildings constructed by the city's founders that survived floods caused by Tropical Storm Agnes. Preservationists had the building moved to higher ground across the street from its original location. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

From the Rockland Grist Mill and its historic village to the mansion house in Druid Hill Park, Azola has been reimagining and rebuilding old structures since the 1960s. His projects are chronicled in a photograph- and story-rich book, “Rebuilding Baltimore,” published late last year. His company turned the old Oregon General Store in Hunt Valley into a restaurant, the Oregon Grille. After the old Rogers mansion house in Druid Hill Park became part of the Baltimore Zoo, now the Maryland Zoo at Baltimore, it was a terrible mess, from top to bottom. Azola found a way to keep the mansion’s grand — and very heavy — cupola from falling through to the basement.

In Baltimore’s Mount Vernon section, an area full of architectural wonders, the Ivy Hotel, at Calvert and Biddle streets, became Marty Azola’s magnus opus, his masterwork. With the backing of Sylvia Brown and Eddie Brown of Brown Capital Management, the Azola company converted the old inn at Government House into the five-story Ivy, a boutique inn with some eye-opening, jaw-dropping interior designs. “The glow here,” Azola says with pride, “is just off the charts.”

Azola’s immediate advice to the city on the Clipper Mill Road mess: No materials should leave the site. Keep all the stones here. “I hope the city makes the perpetrator in Woodberry rebuild the two houses,” he says, and wouldn’t that be something?

The Azola company took apart and reassembled Taylor's Hall on Falls Road in Baltimore County
The Azola company took apart and reassembled Taylor's Hall on Falls Road in Baltimore County (Baltimore Sun)

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