June 20, 2012
Photo Courtesy Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun Staff
One wintry night in December, 2010, all of Mount Vernon, it seemed, was lit up.
But it wasn’t Christmas lights illuminating the night sky – it was something far worse.
A fire had broken out at the Park Plaza building at 800 N. Charles Street.
One by one, the fire alarms sounded. The two fire crews who arrived on the scene could not handle the blaze themselves. They put out another call for help. Then two more calls for help. And when all was said and done, five alarms and more than 120 fire men were needed to bring the fire under control.
The fire was believed to have started by an electrical malfunction on the 1st floor. Flames shot as high as the roof, which was old and made of tar. That soon collapsed, causing the firemen inside to scramble. Other firefighters were dispatched to the roofs of other buildings, making sure the flames did not spread across the street.
Miraculously, no one was killed, and injuries from the firemen were minor. But the damage to the building was irreparable.
A Charles Street Icon
Arunah Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun
This 170-year old building at the corner of Charles and Madison has a lot of history. It’s a landmark in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, and, in 1883, it served as a 25-room mansion for Arunah Abell, the founder of The Baltimore Sun.
In the early 1900s, it was home to The Baltimore Club, a posh social club for men. The 1930s saw its next incarnation as The Longfellow Hotel. In the 1980s, it was acquired by The Time Group and featured a mix of restaurants and upper-level office space. Its most recent retail tenants included Donna’s coffee shop, Indigma and My Thai.
“We thought of the fire as a chance to redo the whole thing,” said Development Director Dominic Wiker of the Time Group. “When the building was purchased by the Time Group in the 80s, not much was done to spruce it up. In the reconstruction, some of the small offices and an old mechanical system were taken out.”
I had the opportunity to take a tour of the new building with Dominic.
The new 4th floor office space
Inside is bright and cheery – with ceiling heights of up to 14′ on some levels.
“The building now promotes an open floor plan,” Dominic said. “Its shell is structurally sound. It has high efficiency windows and systems, which will help lower operating costs to tenants. In short, it’s caught up with the 21st Century.”
On each floor, offices are located along the perimeter walls, and there’s open space in the middle. The entire building is now ADA-compliant, with a larger elevator (about 2x as big as its predecessor!) that stops on every floor.
And while the ‘core’ of the building now functions using modern mechanical systems, Dominic and his team were careful to preserve the historical touches that give Park Plaza its charm.
The original fireplaces were preserved, as was the trim work around the windows. The old ironwork outside was also saved, making this one of the best views in all of Baltimore, in my opinion:
The ‘B’ stands for Baltimore Club
The reconstruction of the 40,000 square foot building and adjoining brownstone took just 9 months at a cost of $6 million. The building underwent three months of heavy demolition immediately after the fire. Architecture firm Marks, Thomas was hired in January 2011. And because of the building’s location and historical prominence, there was a city review of the design plans. These plans were approved by the City Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) in June, 2011.
“We had a lot of interest and involvement from the Mt. Vernon-Belvedere Association,” Dominic added. Everyone wanted to make sure the designers got things ‘just right.’
In August, The Time Group received permits and approval to begin construction. And in April of 2012, the Park Plaza opened its doors once again.
Its tenants include The Fund for Educational Excellence, Ramer Equities, Maryland Capital Management, Charlesmead Advisors, EML Partners, Floura Teeter Landscape Architects and Zenith Healthcare.
“We were here before the fire, and we’re happy to be back,” said Roger Schulman, President of The Fund for Educational Excellence.
Indigma, the Indian Restaurant that had been on the first floor, has relocated across the street to 802 N. Charles Street.
My Thai, which had occupied the lower level retail space, has moved to 1300 Bank Street, right next to the Heavy Seas Alehouse, in the space that once housed Lemongrass. They’re slated to open sometime this month.
And Donna’s? Sadly, the coffee shop has decided not to reopen in Park Plaza. “Donna’s chose to concentrate on its other 2 locations,” Dominic said. And while that disappoints all of us caffeine addicts in Mt. Vernon, Dominic assured me that his retail broker is in discussions with a few other coffee shops to lease the 12,500 square foot space.
A 3,800 retail space on the lower level is also available. Don’t you think it would be the perfect spot for a wine bar? It has a definite wine cellar vibe to it.
In addition, the ballroom on the 2nd floor is available, and because of its unique, column-free layout, it could be made into a loft-like, 2-story restaurant. Imagine the possibilities. If you’re interested in learning more about retail opportunities in Park Plaza, you can contact Dominic at 410-878-9718.
“Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects enjoyed 20 great years on the top floor of the Park Plaza building,” says Frank Dittenhafer, FAIA. “We have very fond memories of the projects we worked on – we occupied different floors and spaces in the Park Plaza and the adjoining brownstone – and had fantastic views over the city from our rooftop deck.”
“After the fire, close to 150 people contacted me & offered work space, from Fells Point to Towson,” Frank continues. “They even offered us computers and other office supplies. Some of people I knew, some of whom I never met. The outpouring was phenomenal; I will never forget it. Fortunately we had just enough extra space in our York, PA office and were able to move our Baltimore staff up there the same day as the fire. One of the many calls I received was from the owners of Meredith Art Galleries across the street at 805 North Charles Street. We were able to renovate and lease two floors of open studio space in the spring of 2011 – which has worked out extremely well for Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects. We’ve been watching the Park Plaza construction take place, and the connection to Mt. Vernon means a lot to our office. There are really wonderful spaces – old, historic, new & modernized – that have come out of this tragedy. It’s just great to have the Park Plaza back.”
I couldn’t agree more – welcome back, Park Plaza! We’re so happy to know your doors are open once again.
The Park Plaza Building is located at 800 N. Charles Street and managed by The Time Group. For information, contact Dominic Wiker at 410-878-9718 or visit www.thetimegroup.com.
Member’s Only Parking Meeting
Image Courtesy Clipart
Attention Historic Charles Street Association Member Businesses: Captain Cason, the head of Baltimore City’s Parking Enforcement, as well Stanford Leach, representing the City Parking Authority, will be joining us for a special Parking and Loading meeting on Tuesday, July 10th. If you frequently receive tickets while loading your delivery van, or hear from your customers about their parking issues in the Charles Street corridor, especially along the 300 block, here is your chance. Learn the official rules about parking and loading on Charles Street, and hear what our friends at the Parking Authority can do to support you. RSVPs are required in advance for this meeting. So email me to secure your spot!
Fun Things Happening The Rest of This Week
Tonight at The Enoch Pratt Free Library: join Journalist Tom Wilber as he talks about his new book, “Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale.” Running from southern West Virginia through eastern Ohio, across central and northeast Pennsylvania and into New York, the Marcellus Shale formation underlies a sparsely populated region that features striking landscapes, critical watersheds, and a struggling economic base. It also contains one of the world’s largest supplies of natural gas, a resource that has been dismissed as inaccessible until recently.
Technological developments that combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – have removed physical and economic barriers to extracting gas from bedrock deep below the Appalachian basin. ‘Under the Surface’ is the first book-length journalistic overview of shale gas development and the controversies surrounding it. 7pm. Free 400 Cathedral Street. See website for more details.
|My little party animal|
On Friday, June 22:You’ve heard about ‘take your son/daughter to work day,’ but did you know there’s Take Your Dog to Work Day?
That’s right, on Friday, join the PCMA Chesapeake Chapter at The Hotel Monaco from 5 pm-7 pm for a special Yappy Hour event! Come by for some food, drinks & great networking opportunities. BTW, they welcome all pets – you can bring your dog, cat, fish or any other pet to mix and mingle!
The PCMA Chesapeake Chapter will be donating a portion of the $20 registration cost to the SPCA. Paul Sheinberg from Pawsitive Paul’s Dog Training will be present with some helpful obedience tips. There will also be treats provided by Dogma, a pet store located in Locust Point. Click here for more information and to register! The Hotel Monaco is located at 2 N. Charles St.
Also on Friday: hear Angie Henle sing at Mick O’Sheas. Show starts 9:30pm. There is no cover. Mick O’Sheas is located at 328 N. Charles Street. Website: http://www.mickosheas.com/index2.html
And on Saturday, June 23 from 7:30 pm- 9:30 pm: Whose show is it anyway? Join an amusing and unusual opening event for Public Property -the participatory summer exhibition at The Walters Art Museum that invites your decisions and contributions.
They’re kicking off the exhibition with a grand game show in the auditorium. Inspired by reality television game shows of the past and present, this show will feature the artworks as “contestants,” where the winner is determined by the audience and a panel of celebrity judges, including co-creator and producer of WYPR’s The Signal Aaron Henkin, musician/performer Dominic “Shodekeh” Bouma and artist Denise Tassin. Host Karl Marks performance artist, comedian and game show fanatic will lead us through this exciting evening!
The fabulous celebrity judges and amazing exhibition are not the only reason to come to the Walters that evening. Cazbar and The Wild Dog food trucks will be parked along Centre Street serving delicious delicacies for purchase. Inside, Rye Baltimore will be at the museum serving a variety of hand crafted cocktails and alcoholic beverages, including Baltimore’s beer, Natty Boh. The famous Mr. Boh will be on hand to help celebrate all of the festivities, including Baltimore band, Yeveto, playing in the museum’s café! The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles. Phone 410.547.9000 http://thewalters.org/eventscalendar/eventdetails.aspx?e=2636
So, what geometic shape is our famous Fort McHenry?
Look closely, and don’t forget the ramparts: According to the National Park Service, Fort McHenry takes the shape of a star.
Isn’t that nice?
Ready for this week’s?
According to Wikipedia, Baltimore is known for which type of Barbecue? And bonus points if you can tell me the name of the spicy-hot sauce that is served with it. Mmm.
Email me your answer, and you, too, could win a prize.
Until next week,
Executive Director, The Historic Charles Street Association
The Historic Charles Street Association (HCSA) is a non-profit organization, 501 (c)(3),whose mission is to support and promote the businesses, cultural attractions, entertainment venues, restaurants and retail establishments along the Charles Street corridor. HCSA serves as a problem solving and information resource for its members, as well as provides a forum for networking, communication and collaboration.