The West Side of Baltimore’s downtown is an area roughly bounded by Pratt Street (south), Read Street (north), Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (west), and Liberty Street/Charles Center (east). From the late 1700s through the 1940s, the West Side grew as a vital center of transportation, commerce, and cultural life. Unfortunately, in the late 20th century retail shopping and investment drifted out to Baltimore’s suburbs, many of these businesses closed, and their buildings began to decay from neglect.
After years of decline, Baltimore City proposed a plan in the 1990s that took an old-fashioned urban renewal approach to redevelopment and threatened to demolish 150 or more historic buildings. In 2001 with strong encouragement state legislature, Baltimore City adopted a new preservation-based strategic plan (PDF) and signed an agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust laying out a process for preserving historic buildings and moving forward with revitalization. Baltimore Heritage and our partners are continuing to advocate for the preservation-based revitalization of this historic downtown Baltimore neighborhood.
Recent photos on Downtown’s West Side
Watchlist buildings on Downtown’s West Side
200 Block of West Lexington Street, South Side
The 200 block of West Lexington Street is in the heart of the “Superblock” redevelopment area on the City’s West Side. The south side of the street is an intact block of historic buildings, a rare occurrence in this part of old downtown. Lexington Street was once a busy shopping hub for Baltimore and is a block away from the renovated Hippodrome Theater. The block has sat in a deteriorated state for many years as the planning has plodded along for the larger Superblock redevelopment. The Baltimore Development Corporation recently awarded development rights for the block to the Chera / Dawson Group. The current plans call for the demolition of virtually the entire block to clear the area for new mixed-use construction.
110 North Eutaw Street
Built between 1805 and 1810 by bricklayer William Jones and most recently occupied by Devine Seafood, this red brick, two-and-one-half-story Federal style building is perhaps the oldest remaining structure on the West Side. Although altered over the years, the Jones House remains in remarkably good condition and is considered a contributing building subject to development guidelines under the West Side Memorandum of Agreement between the Maryland Historical Trust and the City of Baltimore. The building is now owned by the City and in the summer of 2007, the Baltimore Development Corporation issued a request for proposals to develop the site. Currently, the BDC has not selected a developer or development proposal, and whether the building will be preserved is unknown.
600 West Lexington Street, North Side
This row of eight, slightly altered, red brick buildings most likely dates from the 1840s. The south side of the same block and that of the 500 block contain sporadic buildings from the same period, but many original buildings in these rows have been demolished or severely altered. The row on the North side of the 600 block has survived largely intact. The University of Maryland at Baltimore, which now owns the block, has indicated that it intends to preserve the houses. In April, 2006, the University signed an agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust agreeing to preserve this row of pre Civil War historic buildings. Baltimore Heritage first included this block on Lexington Street in 2002, before the University of Maryland’s commitment. The University’s commitment has greatly advanced the prospects for preservation and renovation, but to date no work has been done.
400 Block of Park Avenue, West Side
On the east side of the 400 block of Park Avenue stand numbers 405-411, four paired, three-story stuccoed brick townhouses whose elliptical blind arches above the doorways and some of the windows resemble those on architect Robert Mills’s now-demolished Waterloo Row. These structures, which are owned by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, are designated as “contributing buildings to be preserved” under the West Side Memorandum of Agreement between the Maryland Historical Trust and the City of Baltimore. These buildings were photographed by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey in 1936, a testament to their significance in the architectural history of the region. The west side of the block includes three two-and-one-half-story Federal style houses, rare survivals in this area of the city. These buildings are considered “contributing buildings subject to development guidelines” under the West Side MOA. Currently, the Enoch Pratt Library has not publicly announced any plans for the buildings it owns in the 400 block.
Baltimore is an American center for cast iron buildings, although the number left standing in Baltimore is dwindling. A century ago, there were more than 100 of them. By 1962, the city was down to 36 buildings with full cast iron fronts. Today, there are only 9 of these left, and an additional 13 with cast iron storefronts. Many cast iron buildings were destroyed in the 1904 fire, and many more were demolished as part of various urban renewal projects.
Today, most of Baltimore’s cast iron buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. This provides some level of preservation protection when there are federal or state funds involved in a redevelopment project. It does not provide any protection when private financing or city funds are used exclusively. Of the cast iron fronted buildings once standing in Baltimore, the following are all that remain. These were identified by James Dilts and Catherine Black in their 1991 book on Baltimore’s cast iron architecture, Baltimore’s Cast-Iron Buildings & Architectural Ironwork, published in association with Baltimore Heritage.