Although its very busy in the office lately, I still like to get out during the day for some fresh air and inspiration. With our “early spring” this year, there has been no shortage of temptation for sagging off on a nice afternoon. Last week, during a walk downtown I caught a nice image of texture, light and color within the modest canyons of downtown Baltimore. Walking about the semi-deserted small street, I snapped some pictures of this small structure, marked the Donnelly Insurance Building.
This old building, with hand-painted window signage (original?) was built on the likely-border of the Great Fire of 1904 just a couple blocks away from the harbor docks. Without knowing anything about this particular building, my guess is it was built after the fire. A very high ceiling in the main floor (in a 3-floor scheme) makes for what must be a useful basement and very private 3rd floor. The scale fits in well with the surrounds, mostly medium-rise early 20th century classically-inspired stone-detailed buildings.
In the fashion of the times, Roman buff brick, combined with a strong base and strong cornice reflect the influences of Louis Sullivan in this modest-sized building.
The chamfered entrance is a bit heavy-handed but presents a solid image for a 1905 insurance company’s headquarters. I changed over to B&W for this next picture, to emphasize the westerly light coming through the cracks between buildings. The unusual pastiche to the left is an older classical-style building which apparently sold its air-rights in the 1980’s.
Overall, this small Baltimore street was very quiet for a workday afternoon. The entire scene (and especially the building to left) reminded me of two summers ago when walking Quebec City, Quebec. I walked a flat street near the St. Lawrence River quay which featured a collection of late 19th-century classic buildings. I looked through my archives and, viola – below is the exact scene I had in my head.
Some parts of Baltimore can be quite busy during the day (the pedestrian-friendly areas, the courthouse, city hall), but many other parts of downtown lack a vibrancy. It is a combination of many things, including a lack of street-level dining and shopping and the subsequent people moving about. What really makes these two particular streets quiet however is the lack of vehicle traffic. I do not miss the cars and emergency vehicle sirens at all – in fact these two particular streets had a preserved and hauntingly-beautiful urban emptiness – but without any commerce they seemed a bit lonely.
Two small commercial one-way streets frozen in time, luckily, for us to explore and remember how a growing North American city looked in 1905. Without the bustle and noise of 1905, however, we are left with an outdoor museum of sorts. An empty museum but one worth saving nonetheless.