Sidebar: An Endangered Landmark
Part 6 of “Poor Man’s Boarding School,” article by Anita Kassof, former Assistant Director at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Article originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
In 1874 disaster struck the Hebrew Orphan Asylum’s original home when a kitchen fire raged out of control. The building was completely destroyed.[i] The community rallied quickly and decisively, locating temporary homes for the displaced children and organizing a fundraising event that, combined with the insurance settlement, enabled the trustees to rebuild on the site.
The new structure was dedicated in 1876. Designed by architects Edward Lupus and Henry A. Roby, the commanding Romanesque edifice—complete with battlements—was surrounded by lawns and a high fence. The asylum loomed over the modest dwellings that surrounded it. About half a mile to the west, the village of Calverton gave way to pastureland, woods, and hills.
Soon, however, Baltimore’s growing population filled in the area around the Asylum. After the HOA vacated the building in 1923, it was purchased by the new West Baltimore General Hospital, founded to provide much needed healthcare in the rapidly developing neighborhood. Jacob Moses, a leader in both the Jewish community and the broader civic arena, led the campaign to raise funds to transform the building into a modern hospital. The facility opened in June 1924 and served the residents of West Baltimore until 1945, when it was acquired by the Lutheran Hospital of Maryland. After the Lutheran Hospital moved out in 1989, the building sat vacant and fell into disrepair. In 2003 it was purchased by Coppin State University. The university moved to stabilize the severely deteriorated building and is currently attempting to raise funds to renovate it.[ii]
In recognition of the former Hebrew Orphan Asylum’s historical and architectural significance, in 2010 Baltimore Heritage, Inc., successfully nominated the building to the National Register of Historic Places “as a rare surviving nineteenth century orphanage and likely the oldest purpose-built Jewish orphanage in the United States.”[iii] The preservation group has also placed the building on its “Watchlist” of endangered Baltimore landmarks. A campaign is underway to help Coppin find the funding necessary to save this historic building. For more information, contact Baltimore Heritage or the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
[i] Baltimore Sun, November 13, 1874, 2.
[ii] Jacob Moses Papers, MS 51, Folder 18, JMM; “Hebrew Orphan Asylum,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination, Baltimore Heritage, Inc. (available online at baltimoreheritage.org/advocacy/watchlist/).
[iii] “Hebrew Orphan Asylum” National Register Nomination, Sec. 8, 2.