Cathe­dral Hill homes to wel­come new fam­i­lies

Once-posh site of Franklin Lofts will of­fer af­ford­able liv­ing

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Atrio of Cathe­dral Hill town­houses that once housed wealthy Bal­ti­more fam­i­lies are be­ing rein­vented as apart­ments aimed at a new gen­er­a­tion who want to live and work down­town.

Re­named Franklin Lofts & Flats, the Fed­eral-style mer­chants’ homes face East Franklin Street at St. Paul Place, a few doors from Tio Pepe restau­rant. All three have been va­cant for nearly a decade.

Some­time next year, renters will be able to live at a place that once over­looked the 1820s con­struc­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment. An at­tic, four flights up, af­fords views of old Bal­ti­more’s Hamil­ton Street and neigh­bor­hood rooftops.

Ar­chi­tec­tural purists might say these struc­tures were com­pro­mised in 1922, when Con­sol­i­dated En­gi­neer­ing Co. bought 18 and 20 E. Franklin for of­fices. Later, engi­neers stream­lined the build­ings with a lime­stone fac­ing and ad­di­tions, mak­ing them suitable for a 1940s of­fice build­ing.

Af­ter that, “the build­ings were largely gut­ted in the 1960s, when all the for­mer homes were con­sol­i­dated into one,” said James M. Riggs, vice pres­i­dent of Osprey Prop­erty Com­pa­nies, the de­vel­oper.

“Noth­ing of in­te­rior his­toric in­ter­est sur­vived, with the ex­cep­tion of a sin­gle set of stairs in No. 20 — and we’ll be reusing them,” he said.

The small­est home, No. 16, was built in 1899 for the Lovell fam­ily. Con­sol­i­dated En­gi­neer­ing re­moved all of the orig­i­nal floors dur­ing its ren­o­va­tion. Now con­struc­tion work­ers will re­turn a large part of the unit to its orig­i­nal de­sign, mak­ing it a three-bed­room res­i­dence.

“One of the most re­cent uses of the build­ing was as the New Foun­da­tions School,” said Riggs, speak­ing of the al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion academy that op­er­ated there about 17 years ago. “One of the base­ment rooms we called the ‘record room,’ be­cause it was dec­o­rated with vinyl records nailed to the wall. Clas­sic al­bums — Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and Air Sup­ply — were rep­re­sented.”

Like many old Bal­ti­more build­ings, Franklin Lofts posed ques­tions as Osprey and its con­trac­tors peeled back what the ages had im­posed.

“When we first ex­plored the build­ing, we noted sev­eral of the of­fices had small safes, as well as a large vault on the main floor. We thought it was once a bank,” Riggs said. “When we bought the build­ing, the project su­per­in­ten­dent didn’t wait for the demo crews. He pulled the wall­board down and found not one safe, but five large safes.

“We then planned a safe-crack­ing episode,” he said. “We found all the safes empty.”

Riggs said his firm’s $14 mil­lion in­vest­ment will re­sult in 41 apart­ments and 11 on-site park­ing spa­ces.

Half of the for­mer town­house units and a new ad­di­tion de­signed by ar­chi­tects Cho Benn Hol­back As­so­ci­ates Inc. will be one-bed­room hous­ing. The rest will have two or three bed­rooms.

“Down­town is out the door,” Riggs said. “For a young fam­ily with small chil­dren, apart­ments at our lo­ca­tion pro­vide walk­a­ble ac­cess to nu­mer­ous job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Mercy Hos­pi­tal is just a block away. We ex­pect our peo­ple to ride bikes or the Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor.”

Riggs hopes the rents, about $850 a month, will be “more af­ford­able than other new down­town-area apart­ments,” and pro­vide a home for peo­ple who are mak­ing the down­town a lively place to be.

“We want a place for the baris­tas and mu­si­cians to live,” he said.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

James M. Riggs, vice pres­i­dent of Osprey Prop­erty Com­pa­nies, sur­veys the view from 20 E. Franklin St., part of his firm’s $14 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion project.

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