Calling the demolition permits issued by the city “valid, legal and proper,” an administrative hearing officer has paved the way for the razing of a block of houses on Druid Hill Avenue that includes the childhood home of the world-famous bandleader Cab Calloway.
In a written decision, Debyn W. Purdie rejected a plea by Calloway’s grandson, Peter Brooks, and a nearby resident that federal and state funds were involved in plans to clear out the block of once-stately, now-vacant rowhouses.
Use of such funds would trigger a review by the Maryland Historical Trust because the properties are part of the Old West Baltimore National Register Historic District, plaintiffs Brooks and Marti Pitrelli had argued.
But the failure of Baltimore’s preservation agency, CHAP, to give the block potential landmark status undercut their argument that demolition would violate the National Historic Preservation Act, according to Purdie.
• The Brew has covered the Calloway dispute from the start. Here’s a link to our stories.
The hearing officer also accepted the city’s assertion that state money would not be used for the proposed demolition because, she wrote, “the 2200 block of Druid Hill Avenue. . . was no longer on the Project C.O.R.E. demolition list.”
In fact, the block remains on Project C.O.R.E’s online map of blighted buildings slated for demolition (see below).
Heeding to a CDC’s Wishes
State housing officials told The Brew last October that the block was removed from the map, while city officials said local taxpayer funds would foot the bill for the teardown, which would amount to at least $322,000 on top of the $319,000 the housing department spent to acquire the properties from private owners.
The chief proponent for clearing the block is the Druid Heights Community Development Corp., which has plans – but not designated funds – to build a park at the site.
For the past year, the future of the Calloway house has been mired in name calling and political intrigue.
When Brooks approached the CDC last year to save the Calloway house, which followed Pitrelli’s discovery that 2216 Druid Hill Avenue was the bandleader’s teenage home, the CDC denounced the idea as “outside interference.”
Since then, the future of the Calloway house has been mired in name calling and political intrigue.
Elected officials, including Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and local Councilman Leon F. Pinkett III, have avoided public statements on the issue while privately cleaving to the “tear-it-down” position of the CDC’s longtime leader, former deputy housing commissioner Jacquelyn Cornish.
Preserving Black History
One opponent of demolition was mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah.
He cited the importance of preserving black history and argued that a restored Calloway house could be an anchor for the nascent Black Arts and Entertainment District along Pennsylvania Avenue.
At the hearing, Anthony Pressley, the CDC executive director, dismissed the preservation route, telling Purdie that West Baltimore residents would benefit more from a park than “from a tourist attraction proposed by outsiders who have harassed and defamed the Druid Heights CDC.”
Last October, the CDC barred Brooks from presenting a petition with several thousand names that endorsed his plan to preserve the Calloway house and turn it into a museum or a B&B for traveling musicians.
A Plaque for Cab
As an alternative way to honor the bandleader, Councilman Pinkett and CHAP want to give a house where he lived when he was 7 and 8 years old landmark status.
The rowhouse, at 1316 North Carey Street, was owned by Calloway’s grandmother and used by the family between the time his father died and his mother remarried and moved to Druid Hill Avenue.
A Philadelphia property company currently owns the building; a bill before the City Council would place its exterior on the city’s historical landmark list worthy of a plaque.
Today Calloway’s grandson, Peter Brooks, appeared resigned to the end of his citizen’s crusade, saying, “Ever since I was a kid, my heart would sink when we passed through that neighborhood, and that hasn’t changed.”
He continued, “Finding out my granddad was from there gave me an opportunity to try and do something. Now that door is closed. If another one opens, I will try again.”