This block has been vacant and falling apart for years. Baltimore Development Corporation appeared to understand the urgency in fixing at least two of the buildings in 2015, but it doesn’t look like anything was ever done. (See Westside Building Assessment for Park 414 and 412. Links open a PDF.) 406 Park Avenue was listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. (Link opens a PDF)
Sadly, the ownership chain for this property is completely convoluted. It was foreclosed on at one point, then it appears to have been purchased in a tax sale in the late 1990s, then it was condemned by the City in 2004.
However, it did have one notable occupant, and it’s a wonderful little home, tucked inside a row and set back from the sidewalk.
The home was once lived in by a Mr. John B. Sanks, whose colorful obituary graced the pages of the Afro-American in 1911. Mr. Sanks was born in 1831, and his obituary is as follows:
Mr. John B. Sanks Passes Away
John B. Sanks, one of the best known of the older Masons in the city, died at his home, 1144 Argyle avenue, Thursday afternoon of last week, after a lingering illness.
He was born in Northumberland county, va., nearly 75 years ago.
He came to Baltimore at an early age, and had been connected with Sharp Street Memorial M. E. Church since 1861. For seventeen consecutive years he as superintenent of the Sunday School and had filled about every official position in the church. He was also a member of various departments of the Masonic fraternity. Over 28 years ago he served as grand master for Maryland and was one of the delegates to the Masonic centennial celebration in Philadelphia.
The deceased is survived by his wife, Mrs. Mary A. Sanks, one daughter, Mrs. William I. Butler, Jr., and several grandchildren.
The funeral services at Sharp St. Church Monday afternoon were largely attended. The opening prayer was by Rev. Dr. I. L. Thomas and the Scripture lesson was read by Rev. C. G. Cummings. After brief eulogies by Revs. E. W. S. Peck, and N. M. Carroll, Rev. W. A. C. Hughes delivered the funeral oration. The life and services of the deceased were extolled by the pastor, and the departed was eulogized as one of the most zealous of the members of the church.
The Masonic fraternity under the leadership of Grand Master Thomas Jones conducted the services peculiar to their order. The Grand Lodge, Blue Lodge, Knights Templar and Royal Arch Chapter and Odd Fellows were represented.
This is a curious old building, tucked away in a residential neighborhood that’s home to some blighted blocks, an apartment complex, and a new-ish suburban-looking subdivision.
On further research, it turns out that this property might be the oldest school building in Baltimore City, built in 1858. A shame that once again, the city has allowed a piece of Baltimore history to rot away.
The original building received an addition in 1882, which was found somewhat unsatisfactory when reported in the “Reports of the City Officers and Departments”:
The addition, made to No. 18 Primary School, on Argyle avenue near Lanvale street, is now occupied by the school, and supplies accommodations which have long been needed. In the Male Department, though, the lighting has been seriously impaired by the addition. This could have been avoided by putting the stairway at the north end of the building instead of putting it between the old and new portions. Now, it is necessary to improve the light in the rooms of the old building, which are adjacent to the addition.”
This property is really amazing — you have to see it in person to appreciate its impact. Unfortunately, it’s also owned by the City and therefore, falling into ruin. It is on the National Register of Historic Properties.
Property Address: 1313 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217 (Home of the Friendless)
Property Owner: Mayor and City Council, 417 E Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
The original historic register application is here.
From the Maryland Code, 1870:
The justices of the peace for Baltimore city, the trustees of the poor for said city, may commit to the care and charge of the home of the friendless, instead of sending to the almshouse, all children, whether male or female, who are destitute or suffering for want of support, or may be found begging about the streets of the city, or who are children of beggars.
The home of the friendless, and the managers thereof, may retain the said children under their care until they shall be of eighteen years of age, or for any shorter period, and may bind them out for a time, not to exceed the age of eighteen years, in the case of females, and of twenty-one years in the case of males, as apprentices of any trade or business, or in the case of females, also to learn to be useful in housewifery, or may under terms proper, in view of the said managers, and to be stipulated by them, place them for adoption, or as inmates with any families or persons; and the said corporation in the exercise of any of the powers vested in them by this section, of binding or placing out said minors, shall not be limited to places within the State.
All instruments binding out or placing said children shall be in writing, signed by the president and at least two managers of said corporation, and by the persons taking the children as apprentices or otherwise, and shall be acknowledged by the persons signing the same before a justice of the peace for Baltimore city, and within six months of the date thereof recorded in the office of the register of wills of said city.
If any parent or guardian or any any judge of the orphans’ court of Baltimore city, or any justice of the peace for said city shall place under the care and control of the home of the friendless, any child, whether male or female, under the age of eighteen years, of the description of children hereinbefore mentioned, or as suffering through the extreme indigence or vagrancy or bad habits or neglect of parents, or from cruelty of intemperate parents, or as being illegitimate, or children of persons out of the State without sufficient sustenance, the said corporation and the managers thereof shall hold and control such children, with power to bind or place them out as hereinbefore provided.
Any constable or police officer of said city, upon application of any manager of the home of the friendless, or of his own accord, may carry before any judge of the orphans’ court for said city, or any justice of the peace, any child of the description mentioned in the preceding section, to be dealt with as therein provided.
The current owner of this home (a lawyer, no less) was jailed in Michigan, in 2010, for stealing $800,000 from her mother, who was 95 at the time. She was released in August of the same year, after repaying the money. In 2011, she sued family members, but the case was dismissed for failure to pay the $175 filing fee.
1318 Druid Hill Avenue is the former home of Henry Sythe Cummings, one of the first two African-American men to graduate from the University of Maryland School of Law. He lived in the home from 1911 until 1917, when he suffered a stroke and died. He was also the first African American Baltimore City Councilman. His legacy should be preserved, including this home — it’s a shame the out of town slumlord owner probably won’t be back to make needed repairs.
Sorry for the lousy photo, but there was no way to get a good shot, due to the overgrown tree in front.
Yet another Upton home going to waste, this time at the hands of the City. In this home lived the first African-American member of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ Association, Local 155. Mr. David Leigh was granted membership in 1940, after trying for several years. An article about his acceptance into the union was published in The Afro-American.
The home is available through Vacants to Value, however — the home immediately next to it is not, and it’s in even worse shape. Hard to imagine anyone buying it and doing any sort of quality work on the home when it’s in danger of whatever happens to the property next door.