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Neighborhoodsby Mark Reutter12:16 pmJan 9, 20200

CHAP backs away from landmark designation for Cab Calloway house

Preservation officials have disproved a claim that a civil rights figure lived at the property, which remains slated for demolition

Above: A young Cab Calloway. (Courtesy of Peter Brooks)

An effort to spare Cab Calloway’s childhood home from the wrecking ball has lost the tentative support of the city’s preservation commission.

“CHAP will not pursue potential landmark designation of the property,” executive director Eric Holcomb said yesterday after releasing a report that found that Andrew J. Reed, an early civil rights leader and the grandfather of the musician, did not live at the same address.

Last month, Calloway’s daughter, Cecelia Calloway, and grandson, Peter Brooks, cited research by a Virginia Tech professor suggesting that Reed also lived at 2216 Druid Hill Avenue.

The CHAP board asked the housing department to delay demolition of the 2200 block for 90 days to allow staff to research the possible connection.

Holcomb said Calloway did, for a brief time, live with Reed’s wife, but at a different West Baltimore address and after Reed had died.

Backing away from recommending 2216 Druid Hill Avenue as a historic landmark, Holcomb said there are “other ways to honor and celebrate the Calloway legacy in Baltimore,” including the designation “of other structures that we believe would better celebrate this heritage.”

Holcomb did not name any possible candidates for preservation, though his report cited two other houses where Calloway lived before he left Baltimore in 1927 to make his name as a celebrated entertainer who helped break the country’s racial barriers.

Pushed by local CDC

Demolishing the Calloway block is a top priority of the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation (DHCDC) and its longtime leader, Jacquelyn Cornish, a former deputy housing commissioner.

The nonprofit group wants to turn the properties into a park and renovate vacant houses it owns on the east side of Druid Hill Avenue into single-family dwellings.

Brooks and others – including nearly 3,000 people who have signed petitions – say renovating the Calloway house as a museum or a center for young musicians could jump-start efforts to revitalize nearby Pennsylvania Avenue.

Both the city and state say they are committed to rejuvenating the now-bedraggled corridor into an arts and entertainment zone that befits its legacy as the jazz and nightlife center of black Baltimore that molded a teenaged Cab Calloway, who played drums and earned his singing chops in clubs on The Avenue.

Offer on the Table

Last summer, a D.C.-based developer, Charles Martin, submitted a proposal to the housing department to buy the Calloway block and rehabilitate the large, three-story buildings.

Offering the city about $150,000 for the properties, Martin said he envisioned the Calloway house as an Airbnb for traveling musicians and a possible recording studio.

Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman rejected the offer, saying the department does not accept “unsolicited bids.”

Repeatedly, the agency says it is just following the community’s wishes to tear down eyesore properties and help establish a yet-unfunded park (estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million).

Martin said his purchase offer is still on the table, while the housing department says demolition of the block is still slated for the first quarter of 2020.

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