A developer has received permission from the city preservation board to raze the rear two thirds of 214 West Mulberry Street – as long as he preserves the pre-Civil War front of the structure that was once home to the legendary Martick’s Restaurant Francais.
Vitruvius Development president Christopher Janian said he was pleased with the unanimous decision by Baltimore’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation yesterday, made at the recommendation of CHAP staff and with the blessing of Baltimore Heritage.
And Janian said he was hopeful about meeting the next challenge:
His development group must pay for the preservation of the structure without historic tax credits, subsidies he said are not available because part of the building will be demolished.
“We’re very optimistic about finding a really great non-profit partner” to occupy the space, said Janian, whose Park Avenue Partners plans a $30 million residential and retail redevelopment on the block.
Preserving the Matrick’s building and making it usable for a tenant would cost at least $1 million, Janian has said. He told CHAP that the building could not generate enough revenue to justify that cost and the building was too deteriorated to save.
But CHAP last month tabled Janian’s demolition request amid impassioned pleas from residents describing Morris Martick’s establishment not just as a source of fine French cuisine but as a hub of arts, culture, jazz and non-conformity in Baltimore.
“We believe the essence of that does lie in that front main section of the building,” said Baltimore Heritage’s executive director Johns Hopkins, who had opposed Janian’s full-demolition request.
More than 700 people signed an online petition asking for the whole structure to be preserved.
Permitting the tear down of the less architecturally significant rear of the building, Hopkins said, is “not the ideal outcome, but we can live with it.”
Janian said yesterday the costs of a compromise approach would be much less, but not insignificant.
Reacting to a CHAP staff comment that preserving the street front portion of the building would cost $300,000, Janian said that “it will actually be well north of that.”
A Building “Swallowed”?
There was little discussion by CHAP before the vote. “He can be a hero,” Commissioner Laura Penza said. “We could end up with a win-win situation,” echoed Commissioner Larry Gibson.
But not all parties favored this outcome.
The Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association sent a letter to CHAP calling for the preservation of the whole building. Former Martick’s employee Bridget Benzing, addressing the commissioners yesterday, made the same plea.
“When I look at the photo, I feel like Martick’s is being swallowed by a much larger building, and I’m nervous about them not preserving the whole building,” said Benzing.
Benzing said she spoke for the more than 700 people who signed an online petition asking for the whole historic structure to be preserved.
Reviewing the restaurant’s history (“John Waters’ mother dropped him off there at 16, saying, ‘You’ll fit in with these people!’”), Benzing made a plea for new buildings to be built on “the human scale.”
That issue was on commissioners’ minds as well.
The meeting did not address how a preserved Martick’s – surrounded on two sides by a six-story apartment building – should or would look.
CHAP staffer Stacey Montgomery noted that the proposed apartment building would be 80 feet tall, while Martick’s measures 33 feet at the top of its 1850s-era chimney.
Penza asked if there could potentially be some separation between the two structures.
Such questions, chairman Tom Liebel said, will be taken up separately in future CHAP hearings.
The commission needs to approve any design for construction before a demolition permit would be issued, Montgomery said.