Baltimore history is opening its doors

By Dante U. Barboy
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Baltimore area residents who are interested in the city’s architecture will get a chance to visit some historic buildings on Saturday as part of the annual Doors Open Baltimore event.

Doors Open Baltimore is a one-day free event that welcomes the public to visit buildings that many pass by each day without even noticing.  The event’s theme this year is Undiscovered Baltimore, and it will feature sites both hidden from view and hiding in plain sight. It will also feature visits to well known sites with secrets of their own, organizers said.

“Doors Open Baltimore is an annual celebration of architecture, and it’s the culminating event of Baltimore Architecture Month,” said Nathan Dennies, the operations and communications associate for the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).”It is essentially an open-doors day for Baltimore where 52 sites across the city are opening their doors to the public. It’s really about getting people out to see the architectural offerings of the city.”

“This is the second year of Doors Open Baltimore, and this year we have over 50 buildings,” said Chelsea Thomas, the chair of Doors Open. “In addition to that, we have some guided tours, which is not what you would particularly find when you go to these sites.”

Last year, the theme for the event was Industrial Baltimore.  Sites included former industrial buildings that reflected Baltimore’s past as an industrial powerhouse. Many of those old buildings have been converted to apartments and offices.

Organizers said 2014’s turnout exceeded their expectations, with an estimated 600 people on hand to tour the sites.

“I think this year we are going to see those numbers double and we’re hoping to get at least 1,000 people for the event,” Dennies said.  “This year we are doing Undiscovered Baltimore, showcasing places in the city that people might otherwise not visit or might not have even heard of.”

Dennies said that the focus this year is to get people to explore areas of the city that they otherwise wouldn’t venture out to.  He believes that many people spend a lot of time in specific areas of the city and that this is an opportunity to get people out to different city neighborhoods.

The Arch Social Club in 1923. Photo from the Arch Social Club website.

The Arch Social Club in 1923.
Photo from the Arch Social Club website.

Kathleen Lane, the executive director of AIA’s local chapter, recommends visiting the Arch Social Club, the longest standing African-American gentlemen’s club in the United States, as well as Area 405 Gallery and Baltimore Design School.

Arch Social Club is a really neat social club founded in 1905 for African-American men and is right at the corner of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue,” Lane said.  “People have so many negative connotations of that intersection, but this group is doing a lot of positive work in the community and it’s a beautiful building.”

“The Baltimore Design School is another old industrial building that is now a city public school for design, fashion and architecture,” Lane said. “It was an abandoned clothing factory and it was just a great restoration.”

Doors Open Baltimore’s website provides information about the event, which will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The website includes an interactive map with each building’s location and a brief description of its history.

Visitors are able to build an itinerary based on their interests and building’s proximity, as well as the desire to attend the different lectures or guided tours that will be held at certain times of the day.

“The American Brewery building is occupied by a company called Humanim Now, but it used to be a brewery and has remnants of the brewery inside the space still,” Thomas said. “It is really neat to see how an office is using pieces of the brewery in a different but very cool way.”

Thomas also recommended that people visit Church & Company, an old church that is currently occupied by retail on the first level and an open space for gatherings on the upper level.  She also talked about Sudbrook Park and how it gives a unique feel of a rural neighborhood inside the city limits.

“For places that are more well known, such as the Walters Art Museum, we have special things going on,” Dennies said.  “The Walters will be giving an architecture tour of the building, focusing on architectural artwork, which is a great way that we tie in the Undiscovered Baltimore theme with the mainstream.”

The information hub for the event will be at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where visitors can obtain information on all the sites before deciding which ones to explore.


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