The advantageous commercial situation of Baltimore pre-destined it to be a great city. Yet it was not laid out till 1730, nearly a century after the founding of Maryland. Scores of other towns had meantime been created and had perished.
There was an element of accident in the location of Baltimore. Had a single individual named John Moale possessed prophetic insight, the half-million inhabitants of the city would to-day be occupying a somewhat different situation. Mr. Moale owned land on the south side of the Patapsco River which he valued highly on account of the iron-mines it contained. When it was proposed to lay out a town on Moale’s Point, he hastened to the Assembly at Annapolis, of which he was a member, and had the proposal defeated. After Mr. Moale had taken this false view of his own interests, the petitioners who wished to build a town requested that it might be laid off on the north side of the Patapsco. Accordingly, on August 8, 1729, there was passed “ An Act for erecting a Town on the North side of Patapsco, in Baltimore County, and for laying out in Lots, Sixty Acres of Land, in and about the place where one John Fleming now lives.” l
By this act seven Commissioners were appointed to purchase the land and to lay it out into sixty equal lots. The owners first chose a lot, after which others were free to choose the remaining lots. In case the one who selected a lot should fail to build thereon within eighteen months a house covering four hundred square feet, any other person could enter upon the lot, after paying the sum first assessed. This was forty shillings an acre, and each settler paid his share to Charles and Daniel Carroll, the original owners of the land, either in money, or in tobacco at the rate of a penny a pound. Thus the original site of Baltimore cost something less than six hundred dollars in our present money.
In January, 1730, the town was laid off, beginning at the junction of what are now known as Pratt and Light Streets. The growth of the new town was slow. After twenty-two years had elapsed it contained only twenty-five houses.
This tour of downtown Baltimore takes you through the nuts and bolts of what that slow-starting city has become - the center of government, the headquarters of its largest corporations, a succession of towers that vied for the city’s highest. Our walking tour will start at the Baltimore’s first urban renewal project that happens to be right next to a church site that has been in the same hands as it was back in 1730 on Charles Street...
One Charles Center
100 North Charles Street
This was the first glass curtain tower to rise on Baltimore streets and it carries an impeccable architectural pedigree - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the German-American architect whose “less is more” ethos became a pillar of modern design, created the 23-story International Style skyscraper. The eight-sided tower kicked off the Charles Center urban renewal movement in Charles Center. Crafted of aluminum and gray plate glass, construction took only thirteen months and the final bill came in at a tick over $10 million.
WALK NORTH ON SOUTH CHARLES STREET.
Central Savings Bank
One East Lexington Street, southeast corner of Charles Street
Although mostly self-taught, native son Charles L. Carson emerged as one of Baltimore’s best Victorian architects. Only three commercial buildings from Carson survive and this Romanesque bank formed with red granite and crimson mortar is one of them. It was built in 1890, only one year before Carson died when he was only 44 years old.
223-225 North Charles Street
This seven-story ornament on Charles Street was delivered for the Grand Lodge of Maryland, the governing body of Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry in Maryland, by architect Edmund G. Lind in 1869. The Masons are the oldest fraternal organization in the world and had been meeting on St. Paul Street since the 1820s. Lind delivered a three-story marble-faced building that was expanded and tweaked after fire visited the temple in 1890 and 1908. The Masons wound up with ten meeting rooms, each sporting a different style. The Grand Lodge stayed here until 1994 before moving to the suburbs. The Charles Street temple then dodged the wrecking ball long enough to receive a complete makeover.
210 North Charles Street
This handsome masonry block structure was erected in 1893 with eight stories and spent the remainder of the century as Baltimore’s tallest building. Seven more stories arrived with a steel frame between 1912 and 1915 and were clad in terra-cotta to match up with the original stone.
WALK THROUGH THE CHARLES CENTER ALONG LEXINGTON STREET TO NORTH LIBERTY STREET.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Company
39 West Lexington Street, southwestern corner of North Liberty Street
Here is another building that spent time as Baltimore’s Sky King after it was constructed in 1916, in tandem with the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower. Both stood 289 feet. The ornate Beaux Arts design, dressed in gray granite and white marble, was provided by the firm of J. Harleston Parker, Douglas H. Thomas and Arthur W. Rice. The architects followed the convention of early high-rise builders by designing their tower in the image of a classical column with a defined base (the oversized Corinthian-inspired lower levels), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the ornate upper floors and cornice).
TURN LEFT ON WEST SARATOGA STREET.
Saint Alphonsus Church
114 West Saratoga Street
Distinguished architect Robert Cary Long, one of America’s leading cheerleaders for the Gothic Revival style, designed this landmark church in 1845 for Baltimore’s German community. For much of its life “the German cathedral’s” brick was covered with paint to create a faux finish of stone, a practice often employed to pump up the importance of a building. The original brick would not be revealed until the 1960s.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ALONG WEST SARATOGA STREET.
St. Paul’s Rectory
northeast corner of Cathedral and Saratoga streets
The bricks for the core of this three-story Georgian style house were laid between 1789 and 1791 for William West, a friend of President George Washington. It is one of the town’s oldest existing buildings. An extension to the west wing in the 1830s is one of many alterations that took place in its two centuries of service to St. Paul’s.
Two Charles Center
southwest corner of Charles and Saratoga streets
The northern tip of Charles Center is given over to two mid-sized apartment towers and a jumble of ground level stores around an open plaza. The complex dates to 1969.
Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
233 North Charles Street, southeast corner of Charles and Saratoga streets
St. Paul’s has more than 300 years of service under its belt, founded in 1692 as the meetinghouse for Patapsco Parish, one of the original 30 parishes in colonial Maryland. The church stands on the only property that has remained under the same ownership since the original survey of Baltimore Town in 1730 - Lot. No. 19, the highest point in the new town. Nine years later Baltimore had its first church building; this is the fourth used by the congregation, dating to 1856. Famous church architect Richard Upjohn, who normally favored the Gothic Revival style, was constrained by working from the walls of its burned predecessor’s walls so he tapped the Italian Renaissance instead.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH CHARLES STREET.
northwest corner of Charles and Saratoga streets
The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded by George Williams in London, England in 1844 with the purpose of “the improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades.” It was only eight years later that the Baltimore YMCA was organized November at the Lombard Street Evangelical Lutheran Church. The first building in the country erected for YMCA activities was dedicated at Pierce and Schroeder Streets in 1859 and was used until 1907. The organization renovated this flat-iron shaped building that has manned this odd-shaped lot since 1873. The Second Empire-styled structure still sports its dormered mansard roof but most of its original Victorian ornamentation has been stripped off the brick facade.
Baltimore Life Insurance Company
302 North Charles Street, northeast corner of Charles and Saratoga streets
The Baltimore Life Insurance Company birthed this restrained Art Deco headquarters in 1930. Cast and wrought iron balconies enhance the building and the exterior is studded with marble and bronze panels. The firm abandoned its 11-story building in 1961.
322-328 North Charles Street
The four buildings that make up the Arcade are souvenirs from the 1820s. After the Great Fire of 1904, former governor Frank Brown picked up the properties and set about turning them into shops and offices. Baltimore architect Henry Brauns, who designed a bunch of the city’s infrastructure, spruced up the exteriors with Colonial Revival details for one of the town’s first adaptive re-use projects. Before his career as a developer, Sykesville-born Brown toiled in the House of Delegates as a Democrat and as the Postmaster of Baltimore before becoming governor in 1892. He is best remembered for his role in averting violence during the 1894 coal miners’ strike in Frostburg. Frank Brown died in Baltimore on February 3, 1920 and rests in Greenmount Cemetery.
343 and 345 North Charles Street
These retail establishments show an attempt in the 1920s to infuse life in weary storefronts with a splash of marble.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS SOUTH ON NORTH CHARLES STREET AND TURN LEFT ON EAST PLEASANT STREET.
Pleasant and Davis streets
This brawny brick warehouse, resting on a foundation of Port Deposit granite, was capable of unloading eight railroad cars and twelve trucks when it was constructed to store grain in the 1890s. An addition was seamlessly inserted into the composition in 1912 but the building world had been transformed in the intervening decade and the newer section was crafted on a steel frame while itsolder brother was constructed of wooden posts and beams.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON EAST PLEASANT STREET AND TURN LEFT ON NORTH CALVERT STREET TO MONUMENT SQUARE.
Originally known as “Courthouse Square,” Monument Square was the site of Baltimore’s first public buildings - a courthouse and jail, built in 1768. The construction of the Battle Monument in 1815-25 to commemorate the soldiers who had died in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812 underscored the square’s importance as a symbol of civic identity and pride. Baltimore architect Maximilian Godefroy crafted the remembrance with 18 bands of marble - one for each state during the war. After seeing the Battle Monument together with the Washington Monument in nearby Mount Vernon Square in 1827, President John Quincy Adams was moved to refer to Baltimore as “the monumental city.”
Baltimore City Courthouse
110 North Calvert, west side of square
This is where the May 1774 Stamp Act Protest erupted and the Declaration of Independence was read to the public and this “noble pile,” as it was lauded at the dedication of January 8, 1900, is the third courthouse erected on Monument Square. A design competition of 79 entrants yielded J. B. Noel Wyatt and William G. Nolting whose award-winning Greek Revival composition filled the space with rusticated arches, massive Corinthian columns and a rooftop balustrade. In 1885 the courthouse was named for long-time civil rights activist Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr.
Old Post Office
111 North Calvert Street, east side of square
The first post office on the square was completed in 1889 in the Italian Renaissance style, spiced up with a mansard roof and nine ornamental towers. It was replaced with this model in 1932 when government stimulus money was being thrown around to build thousands of new post offices. The price tag for the Neoclassical building, lined with marble walls, was $3.3 million. it was fitted out with the most modern mail-handling machinery of the day but architect James A. Wetmore forgot to install mail chutes.
GO EAST (the square will be on your right) ON EAST LEXINGTON STREET.
Baltimore City Hall
100 Holliday Street, between Lexington and Fayette streets
Baltimore set out to build a new city hall in 1860 but the Civil War threw its design competitions into chaos and the architect that emerged in 1864 was a 21-year old Baltimore native of German descent named George A. Frederick. His block-swallowing design turned out to be one of the pioneering French Second Empire buildings in America. The six-story City Hall was dedicated on October 25, 1875, coming in at more then $200,000 under its $2.5 million budget. Frederick enjoyed a career of four decades but most of his creations perished in the Great Fire of 1904; City Hall trundled on and was completely returned to its original glory on its 100th birthday in 1975.
TURN LEFT ON HOLLIDAY STREET.
The Peale Museum
225 North Holliday Street
This structure is the oldest museum building in the United States. Designed by Robert Cary Long, Sr. for Rembrandt Peale, the museum opened to the public in 1814 as “an elegant Rendezvous for taste, curiosity and leisure.” For a 25-cent admission fee, Baltimoreans could marvel at “birds, beasts ... antiquities and miscellaneous curiosities” as well as paintings by members of the Peale family. The audience was dazzled on June 11, 1816, when Rembrandt Peale illuminated the museum with burning gas. The jaw-dropping feat led to the founding the same year of The Light Company of Baltimore, the first commercial gas company in the country.
RETURN TO EAST LEXINGTON STREET.
northwest corner of Gay and Lexington streets
Founded in 1755, Zion Church is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Maryland. Services were conducted by horse-back riding circuit preachers in private hoes until the first meetinghouse could be raised on a hill one block north of here. In 1807-08 George Rohrback and Johann Mackenheimer, both members of the congregation, designed the current brick house of worship. After more than 250 years church members can still hear sermons delivered in German here.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH GAY STREET.
Baltimore War Memorial Plaza
Baltimore War Memorial Plaza was constructed in 1927 as a remembrance to the 1,769 Marylanders who died in World War I. The limestone building came from the pen of Laurence Hall Fowler.
United States Custom House
40 South Gay Street, southwest corner of Water Street
One of the first acts of the First United States Congress in 1789 was to set up the Customs Service and Baltimore was established as one of the original 59 collection districts. For most of the 1800s, as Baltimore evolved into one of America’s major commercial ports, the operation was conducted from a wing of the grand domed Merchant’s Exchange that stood here. By 1900 it was time for a new building and Washington designers Joseph C. Hornblower and John Rush Marshall won the job. Their Beaux Arts building filled the block and was dressed in granite hauled from Laurel, Maryland, and Mount Airy, North Carolina and marble was used for the main entrance on Gay Street. Its presence moved the American Architect and Building News to gush in 1908 that, “The result achieved by the intelligent cooperation of architect and artist stamps Baltimore’s new Custom House as among the most successful public buildings erected in this country.”
TURN RIGHT ON WATER STREET.
Corn and Flour Exchange
northeast corner of Water and Commerce streets
John Rudolph Niernsee designed many of 19th century Baltimore’s most elegant buildings, including many for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. this is one of his later works, executed in 1880 when Niernsee was in his 66th year. The Venetian Gothic commercial structure was burned in the 1904 Fire and was rebuilt by Charles Cassell with Renaissance-influenced details. Today the brick building does duty as the home of Baltimore Culinary College.
TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCE STREET AND TURN LEFT ON EAST BALTIMORE STREET.
405 East Baltimore Street
This is the oldest remaining burlesque theater in Baltimore, a famous stop for comedians and strippers who filled the 1,600-seat house beginning in 1906. New York theater designers J.B. McElfatrick & Sons of New York drew up plans for the ornate Baroque and Art Nouveau stage. For the first half of the 20th century “The Block” of East Baltimore Street thrived with vaudeville, burlesque and movie theaters, as well as with bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Gutted by fire in 1969, only the facade of the Gayety remains.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH STREET.
19 South Street
This 1917 home by Edward H. Glidden is in Adamesque Revival style with two interpretatitons of Palladian windows and swags and urns for ornamentation
TURN RIGHT ON EAST REDWOOD STREET.
The Garrett Building
on the southeastern corner of East Redwood Street and South Street
James Bosley Noel Wyatt and William G. Nolting began an architectural partnership in Baltimore in 1889 that lasted 37 years. They created this 13-story tower in 1913, infused with Renaissance Revival details such as loggias, pedimented windows and rustication. The client was Robert Garrett and Sons, one of the oldest and most influential banking houses in the country; they remained until 1974.
225 East Redwood Street
After his building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1904, owner George Vickers had construction permits and construction crews in place within 90 days. Most of the rebuilding in town was taking place with stone but Vickers engineered one of the largest brick expanses in the city here.
Mercantile Trust & Deposit Company
200 East Redwood Street
Architects James Bosley Noel Wyatt and Joseph Evans Sperry spent a productive ten years together between 1878 and 1887 and this lively Victorian vault sprung from their partnership in 1884. The red brick bank stood up to the flames from the Great Fire of 1904.
TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH CALVERT STREET.
Alex. Brown & Sons Company Building
135 East Baltimore Street, southwest corner of East Baltimore Street
Architects J. Harleston Parker and Douglas H. Thomas. Jr. boasted that their 1901 building was fireproof and it proved its mettle when it survived the Great Fire of 1904. Alex. Brown & Sons was the first investment bank in the United States, founded by former Irish linen merchant Alexander Brown in 1800. The elegant Beaux Arts vault was hailed as the first structure in the United States to be heated exclusively with electricity. The centerpiece of the interior is a stained glass dome over the grand banking hall. It is believed to be the work of Baltimore artist Gustave Baumstark, who studied under celebrated glass artists Louis C. Tiffany and John LaFarge. Alex. Brown & Sons was gobbled up by Bankers Trust in 1997, ending its run as America’s oldest investment bank after almost 200 years.
Continental Trust Building
southeast corner of East Baltimore Street and South Calvert Street
The Continental Trust Building, constructed in 1902, is the only building in Baltimore designed by Daniel H. Burnham, one of the fathers of the steel-skeleton skyscraper that came out of Chicago in the 1890s.
7 North Calvert Street, southeast corner of East Fayette Street
Newspaper publisher Frank Andrew Munsey was known as the “dealer in dailies,” and the “undertaker of journalism” in the early 1900s for his habit of buying and merging newspaper properties. In his career he is known to have controlled at least 17 properties. In 1908 he added the town’s leading evening paper, the Baltimore News, that had been locally owned since its first issues in 1873. Munsey was no fan of the News building that stood here so he tore it down even though it was only five years old and erected this tower in 1911. Architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin and his young partner Josias Pennington, in concert with the fabled New York firm of McKim, Mead & White did the design work
10 North Calvert Street, southwest corner ofEast Fayette Street
This is the oldest building on Monument Square, constructed in 1891 on plans drawn by Joseph Evans Sperry. Rising from a base of three-story granite arches, the Equitable Building was considered Charm City’s first skyscraper.
TURN AROUND AND RETURN TO EAST BALTIMORE STREET. TURN RIGHT.
northwest corner of East Baltimore Street and St. Paul Street
When built as the Merritt Tower in 1980 to resemble a ship’s mast, some interpreted it to be a “middle finger” instead. The flagpole rises to top point in the city.
Baltimore Trust Company Building/Bank of America Building
10 Light Street, southwest corner of East Baltimore Street
Not only was this brawny Art Deco building the tallest in Baltimore when it was finished in 1929, it was the tallest office building south of New York City. The architectural firm of Taylor and Fisher infused their cathedral of commerce with Gothic-flavored towers and gargoyles and other architectural forms. The moneymen were the Baltimore Trust Company but they had little time to enjoy their new home, lasting less than a year when the bank was wiped out by the stock market crash.
TURN LEFT ON LIGHT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON EAST REDWOOD STREET TO END AT SOUTH CHARLES STREET.
South Charles and Redwood streets (east side)
Built in 1912, this half-timbered German Renaissance chalet was built as the offices of the North German Lloyd Steamship Company. The gable facing onto Charles Street houses a representation of a Viking ship in full sail.
Sun Life Building
South Charles Street and Redwood Street (west side)
This was one of the first projects helmed by Warren A. Peterson and Charles Brickbauer, who produced several Baltimore landmarks in a 33-year partnership. The twelve-story tower raised in 1966 is dressed in non-reflective black granite.
Two Charles Center
Charles and Lombard streets
This hexagonal 385-foot skyscraper sheathed in dark glass is a 1975 addition to the city’s first widespread downtown renewal effort. The seeds for Charles Center were sown back in 1954.
TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH CHARLES STREET.
Savings Bank of Baltimore
southeast corner of Baltimore and Charles streets
Architects Parker, Thomas and Rice had in mind the Erechtheum, which stands on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece when they added this classical vault at thecrossroads of Baltimore’s central business district in 1907. In fact the bank crafted of Beaver Dam marble was known familiarly as the Temple of Thrift as it continued to take deposits through most of the 20th century.
B&O Railroad Company Headquarters Building
2 North Charles Street, northwest corner of Baltimore Street
One of America’s great railroads, the Baltimore & Ohio was chartered in 1827 to compete with New York’s Erie Canal which was siphoning freight traffic to America’s expanding interior regions. After the line’s headquarters was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1904 architects J. Harleston Parker, Douglas H. Thomas and Arthur W. Rice were called on to deliver a suitably impressive hoe for the town’s signature company. The result is this massive 13-story monument that is liberally decorated with symbolic figures including Mercury, the Roman of trade, merchants and travel and a figure representing the Progress of Industry.
TURN LEFT ON WEST BALTIMORE STREET.
Morris A. Mechanic Theatre
Baltimore and Charles streets
Impresario Morris A. Mechanic operated several Baltimore theaters in the first half of the 1900s, including a creaking Ford’s Theatre that John T. Ford, who later bought a theater in Washington, operated. This is the stage that replaced it, created in a Brutalist style supposed to reflect its interior functions, by architect John M. Johansen. Opening night took place in 1967 shortly after Mechanic’s death.
The Lord Baltimore Hotel
20 West Baltimore Street
Architect William Lee Stoddart made a career out of designing beefy urban hotels like this one, constructed in 1928. Stoddart tapped the French Renaissance style for the 22-story tower topped with a flamboyant mansard roof - the last time a classically flavored skyscraper would be raised in Baltimore as high-rise architecture shifted to Art Deco and the beginning of modernism.
Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Company Building
2 Hopkins Plaza
This 24-story office concrete tower, erected in 1969, exposes its load-bearing columns.
TURN RIGHT ON PARK AVENUE AND RIGHT AGAIN ON WEST FAYETTE STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN THE MIDDLE OF CHARLES CENTER.