Read’s Drugstore in downtown Baltimore was given temporary historical landmark status on April 12, delighting preservationists and disappointing officials and developers.
The Commission for Historic and Cultural Preservation’s ruling will allow for a longer review on whether the building – site of a groundbreaking civil rights victory – should be preserved. But city officials say the decision further bogs down already slow-moving progress on the Lexington Square project, which promises to revive the blighted west downtown area known as “Superblock.”
“The mayor is disappointed with the decision as it may slow job creation for Baltimore’s citizens and delays much-needed investment and revitalization of Baltimore’s Westside,” said Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in an e-mailed statement.
?In other news reports, the mayor is quoted as saying the decision will delay the $150 million development by at least six months. But Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage which spearheaded efforts to preserve Read’s, said this issue should have been addressed years ago. “For seven years we have been pushing for more historic preservation on this project. And it hasn’t gone forward for seven years not this issue but because of other factors ,” he told the AFRO. “This review should have happened a while ago and it’s not holding up the project for any significant period.”
Preservationists and community leaders earlier this year waged a concerted campaign to block the development’s initial plans, which called for the partial to full demolition of about 17 landmarks to make way for a mix of retail shops, apartments, hotels and offices.?Civil rights leaders were particularly concerned about the fate of Read’s Drug Store, the site of an impromptu sit-in staged by Morgan College students in 1955 that eventually led to the desegregation of all the company’s city stores.
“The Morgan students Read’s sit-ins up at Loch Raven and Cold Spring Lane were the first sustained sit-in campaign in the nation,” Larry Gibson, University of Maryland law professor and scholar of Maryland’s civil rights history, told the AFRO in a recent interview about the significance of the building.
In mid-March Lexington Square Partners, the project’s developers, had announced plans to retain the outer walls of the edifice in what seemed to be a compromise with preservationists and civil rights leaders.
“Honoring our history and building for our future should not be mutually exclusive goals,” Rawlings-Blake had said at the time. “I’m very pleased that Lexington Square Partners is taking real steps to commemorate the Read’s site and is moving forward with new investment for the Westside. Without new investment, this historic part of Downtown Baltimore will continue to deteriorate.”
Given Read’s historic import, however, a thorough, unrushed review is appropriate, Hopkins and others said. “The Read’s building is of incredible importance to Baltimore and the country and the preservation commission recognized that importance,” Hopkins told the AFRO. “We fully support having this important civil rights building go through the city’s established process for reviewing proposals on historic buildings.”