County commission acts to preserve two local landmarks
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:26

 by John G. Bailey

    The futures of two historic buildings in southeast Baltimore County were discussed at the public meeting of the Baltimore County Landmark Preservation Commission in June. Testimony from county officials and community leaders favored protecting the former Ernest Lyons Nursery School in Turner Station and the Shaw-Bauer house in Edgemere. The commission voted to maintain and protect the properties.



Ernest Lyons Nursery School
    Teri Rising, historic preservation planner for the Baltimore County Department of Planning, summarized for the commission her report on the former Ernest Lyons Nursery School building.
    The building, located at 411-A New Pittsburgh Avenue, was originally constructed as the Ernest Lyon Nursery School in 1945. The facility was  part of the Ernest Lyon Homes housing complex built in response to a shortage of housing for African American workers at Bethlehem Steel during World War II. Lack of housing became a common problem in communities that served war-related industries as the number of workers greatly outstripped the supply of existing housing.
    Before the war, federal planners made contingency plans for more housing in these communities should hostilities commence. This led to the Lanham Act, passed by Congress in 1940 — a bipartisan effort which authorized the construction of temporary, inexpensive defense housing projects through the Federal Works Agency. 
    The characteristic design of housing projects under the Lanham Act was the product of strict federal guidlines, which were issued to reduce costs and speed up construction, and the modern style of architecture then in vogue.
    Imbued with a socially-conscious optimism, the style combined modern building techniques and materials to create living spaces that served the needs of contemporary communities. Eschewing traditional ornamentation and historical elements, modern architecture was characterized by straight lines and simple planes that emphasize functionality over form.
    To design the Ernest Lyon Homes housing complex, the WPA hired Hilyard R. Robinson, an African-American architect who fully embraced the tenets of modernism. Completed in 1945, the asymmetrical single-story structure centrally situated in the larger housing complex reflects the style.
    Though intended to be temporary, the building was purchased by the Turner Station Progressive Association after the war to prevent its destruction. After the nursery school closed, the structure  served the community as a YMCA, a VFW post and as a branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, which closed in 1993. The building has been vacant since 2008.
    Following Rising’s report, Turner Station civic leader Courtney Speed reviewed the community’s efforts to preserve the building. Community resident Rahemah Raheem then shared her memories of attending the Ernest Lyon Nursery Home as a girl.
    The commission voted to place the structure on the preliminary landmarks list because of its association with a historic African-American community, its association with a significant historic period, for being the last surviving example of a Lanham Act childcare building and for being the work of a nationally significant African-American architect. Designation on the preliminary landmarks list protects the structure from any exterior modification or addition, excavation or demolition without the approval of the Landmark Preservation Committee.
Shaw-Bauer House
    The Shaw-Bauer House is located on land in Edgemere currently owned by Marc Sapperstein, developer of the Shaw’s Discovery residential project. The building is the only surviving structure in Baltimore County that predates the War of 1812. Sapperstein agreed to maintain and preserve the house in a planned use development (PUD) permit issued to him for the housing project in 2008.
    Earlier this year, the North Point Peninsula Council filed a demolition-by-neglect complaint with the Baltimore County Office of Planning, claiming that the developer was negligent in adhering to the PUD regarding the maintenance of the Shaw-Bauer house. At the meeting, the Landmark Preservation Commission heard testimony from county officials and NPPC members to determine if the complaint was valid.
    Chief of Preservation Services Karin Brown reviewed the historical significance of the structure and summarized the findings of a technical committee, which was established by LPC to ascertain the structure’s condition. The technical committee found that the house needed to be stabilized and recommended that it be “mothballed” for preservation.
    Brown explained that if the commission found the demolition-by-neglect claim valid, the committee’s recommendations for remedial action would be forwarded to the county building engineer, who supervises construction projects and ensures compliance with county regulations.
    Chris Mudd, attorney for Sapperstein, represented his client at the meeting. Mudd had submitted a proposal for addressing the current condition of the structure to the commission earlier in the day. In response to Brown’s report, he stated that the proposal was in keeping with the technical committee’s recommendations.
    Commission member C. Bruce Boswell suggested that provisions for adequate ventilation of the structure and grading of the site by a professional in the field be added to the recommendations. He stated that drain tiles and a sump pump system may be needed to address the water penetration problem. In response, Mudd said the additional provisions were reasonable.
    NPPC vice president Fran Taylor complemented Brown’s review of the structure’s historical significance. Council president Harry Wujek raised concerns about enforcing compliance with the remedial actions once the developer had completed Shaw’s Discovery. Council Member Scott Pappas asked if there were anything in the PUD agreement that would prevent Sapperstein from selling the Shaw-Bauer house to another party. In response to Pappas, Brown said there was not.
    The commission voted and found that the structure’s current condition constituted demolition-by-neglect. The body  also approved a list of remedial actions that must be complied with within six months of the meeting.