Mary­land Art Place shows off his­toric home

Oct. 16 open house will mark group’s 35th an­niver­sary

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jac­ques Kelly jkelly@balt­sun.com

Floor-model ra­dios, wood con­sole tele­vi­sions and Vic­tro­las that spun records once filled the plate- glass win­dows of 218 W. Saratoga St. in down­town Bal­ti­more.

With its high ceil­ings, broad floors and a freight el­e­va­tor big enough for pi­anos, the store was known as the place to fill your home with mu­sic.

That’s what makes this build­ing a per­fect show­room for Mary­land Art Place, the gallery and studio for vis­ual artists.

“I fell in love with this build­ing the day I saw it,” said Amy Ca­vanaugh Royce, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Mary­land Art Place. “And this block of Saratoga Street, too. It’s the most New York-look­ing block in Bal­ti­more. I have fam­ily in Man­hat­tan, and it was nostalgic to me.”

Mary­land Art Place will cel­e­brate its 35th an­niver­sary Oct. 16 with a build­ing-wide open house from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The event will be an op­por­tu­nity to see a fas­ci­nat­ing trans­for­ma­tion of a struc­ture that be­gan in 1907 as the Er­langer un­der­wear fac­tory.

By 1921, it was Pe­abody Pi­ano Co. show­rooms, where you could also buy Vic­tor-brand records and their play­ers, Vic­tro­las.

And then ra­dios ar­rived. Many of the early re­ceivers were built here by the John­son brothers, who owned the prop­erty for decades and sold their tele­vi­sions here, too.

There is a phil­an­thropic foot­note to 218 W. Saratoga. In 1928, prom­i­nent mer­chant Aaron Straus ac­quired this prop­erty as an in­vest­ment in the heart of a then-thriv­ing busi­ness dis­trict. When he died in 1958, Straus left $6 mil­lion to lo­cal char­i­ties.

When Mary­land Art Place ar­rived here in 1986, it was the first prop­erty the or­ga­ni­za­tion owned. There were ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces on three floors.

“It’s a cav­ernous build­ing. It has its own aura,” said Royce. “I be­gan walk­ing around the back stair­wells and the base­ment and it grew on me.”

Three decades later, artists fill the for­mer fac­tory, and a mem­bers gallery is be­ing built.

“We have the ma­jor­ity of the build­ing leased and are keep­ing all leases based in arts and cul­ture. We have a bright fu­ture,” Royce said. “We are feel­ing it.”

When Mary­land Art Place moved in, its tim­ing may have been ahead of the down­town arts re­nais­sance. It was cer­tainly years ahead of the neigh­bor­hood’s des­ig­na­tion as the Bromo Arts Dis­trict.

“The feel­ing was that some of our mem­bers were afraid to come to Saratoga Street for night open­ings,” Royce said. “We moved the gallery to the har­bor — and we now have moved all per­ma­nent op­er­a­tions back to Saratoga. We are com­ing out of a fog and into a re­birth of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.” Gre­gory Lam­ber­son and Amy Ca­vanaugh Royce stand in what will be­come one of Mary­land Art Place’s of­fices at 218 W. Saratoga St., which is be­ing ren­o­vated.

Jor­dan Faye Block, a Chicago-born artist and cu­ra­tor, has her own con­tem­po­rary gallery on the fifth floor.

“The view of down­town Bal­ti­more here is spec­tac­u­lar,” she said, look­ing out a large win­dow. “It’s my own spe­cial perch. I’ve been in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, in a Fed­eral Hill li­brary, at the old Load of Fun on North Av­enue and in Clip­per Mill. This one here on Saratoga is the best.”

Block said that when she rented a nearby Park Av­enue apart­ment, she be­gan notic­ing a change in the area.

The Mount Ver­non Mar­ket and Cer­e­mony cof­fee shop, which opened last year, rep­re­sented a sign of promis­ing things to come, she said.

Royce agrees, say­ing, “I like the en­ergy of down­town and its west side. It’s got a heart­beat.”

She thinks the build­ing may have a heart­beat too, or at least a liv­ing pres­ence. “The artists here fan­ta­size about a ghost,” she said.

Could be. In 1924, a man named Wil­liam Dash­ner fell down the el­e­va­tor shaft. He lived but pur­sued “quite a law­suit,” said Royce. Per­haps he comes back on oc­ca­sion to op­er­ate the el­e­va­tor.

“The el­e­va­tor loves to take peo­ple to the base­ment,” Royce said.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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