Hampden Hall, a former veterans' meeting hall that looms above the shops at the southeast corner of 36th Street and Roland Avenue, will be converted to 14 loft-style apartments by mid-2006.

Baltimore businessmen Joe Preller and Bob Geis bought the building last year and plan to create two-level loft style apartments. 

Both say they already own "high-end" rental apartments in Hampden and believe there is a strong demand for more. 

"Our vision is to restore the exterior of the building to its original beauty and make the interior into loft apartments so it's a vibrant part of the community," Geis said.

"It's one of the last architectural gems of the neighborhood" that hasn't been renovated, Preller said. "There's very little supply and very large demand for quality apartments and townhouses throughout Hampden."

Geis owns the building where the well-known Cafe Hon is located, among other properties, and has been trying for years to buy Hampden Hall, which is located at 921-931 W. 36th St. He teamed up with Preller, he said, because Preller has the construction expertise needed to carry out the conversion.

Kathleen Sherrill and Mahendra Parekh of SPArch Inc. are the architects for the $2.5 million project. Preller's Lance Contracting Co. is the contractor.

Hampden Hall was constructed as a meeting hall for Civil War veterans in 1882, six years before Hampden became part of Baltimore City.

It was initially used as an outpost of the Grand Army of the Republic - a patriotic organization of Civil War veterans who served in the Union forces. It was later used as a "town hall" and as a setting for dances and concerts, among other events.

In 1913, the building was acquired by Baltimore businessman Theodore Cavacos, who owned the pharmacy at the southwest corner of 36th and Roland. With the purchase, the Cavacos family controlled two corners of the intersection.

The next year, Cavacos expanded the hall by building storefronts along 36th Street - a new source of revenue that partially obscured the main hall. In 1975, the Cavacos family worked with artist Bob Hieronimus and the city of Baltimore to create a large mural on the north side of the building that celebrates Hampden and its two Medal of Honor winners, Wilton Ricketts and Carl Sheridan.

The Cavacos family owned the building until its sale last year. The storefronts will remain as part of the conversion. The fate of the mural has not been determined, Preller said.

Under a plan approved by Baltimore's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, the entrance to the apartments will be on the Roland Avenue side, and off-street parking spaces will be created on the south side of the property.

Inside, the building has unusually high ceilings, and it's possible to see Baltimore's harbor and the Key Bridge from almost every level. The architects' plans call for part of the roof to be carved away on the south side to create roof terraces with views toward the harbor. Large wooden beams salvaged from the building will be reused in the renovation, and some of the brick walls will be left exposed.

Preller says he asked the architects to salvage as much of the original building as possible and to develop floor plans that capture the "funkiness" and "quirkiness" of Hampden while appealing to today's renters.

"Would you have thought you could see the water from here?" he asked, pointing to an upper-level window. "Most people don't. This is going to be striking."

Baltimore businessman Ted Cavacos, grandson and namesake of the man who bought the building in 1913, maintains an office in one of building's storefronts along 36th Street and says he's pleased with the renovation plans. "It's going to be beautiful," he said. "I wish them the best. It certainly brought a lot of success to my family."

From veterans' hall to loft-style homes
Architecture: Edward Gunts

Architecture Column - Baltimore Sun
Originally published Mar 7, 2005&