Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Baltimore Needs to Save the USF&G Annex and Others

USF&G Annex at Left, old USF&G Building (now Hampton Inn) at Right
Sitting silent and abandoned at 26 S. Calvert Street is the old USF&G Annex building. The original home for USF&G is right next door on the corner of Redwood, but it was preserved as a Hampton Inn in recent years. However, the 12-story Annex built in 1920 has a delayed date with the wrecking ball.

In 2008 the city approved the mixed-use redevelopment called CityScape. You may have heard about it in the news, but it was supposed to add two hotels, apartments, and a 200-car garage surrounding the Brookshire Suites on two sides, and topping off at 30 stories. In order to make this happen, eight building on Lombard Street and Calvert Street would have to come down, including the Annex. However, this never happened for two reasons. First, the Recession hit full force the the funding for the project was never finalized, and second, questions were raised over the bid to demolish the buildings and the work abruptly stopped.

In a way the Recession helped to save the Annex, because if they demolition had been complete, you can almost guarantee that not construction would have taken place and Baltimore would be left with another downtown empty lot. Now that the building still stands we should be asking ourselves, should it really be lost? Can't developers find a better purpose for it? Apartments for instance? In Baltimore, we have a knack for knocking down the old in place of the new (when actual development occurs), but when we devalue our older architecture and leave it for the wrecking ball, we are losing some of the character that makes Baltimore what it is. These examples of architecture cannot be replaced. Long gone are the days of embellishments, grandeur of design, and styles that accentuated stone and brick, so why lose more?

The bigger loss is demolishing these buildings, and having nothing to replace them. Baltimore has a problem with tearing down its buildings for new development, but then nothing happens. Look at the old McCormick Spice building, the Tower Building, the Southern Hotel, all razed for new projects that never materialized, and now have sat as surface parking lots for over 15 years.

Instead let's look at the USF&G Annex, and think about adaptive-reuse and not the wrecking ball. Could you imagine if there wasn't the Bromo Selzter Tower, or the Shot Tower, or the Hutzler Department Store? We need to let an old part of Baltimore live on in a new way.

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