I’m not going to lie — this building has kept me up a few nights, perhaps more than a few, and last night was no exception. As reported in the Baltimore Sun, 1411 Division Street met its demise at the hands of a contractor who was supposed to only demolish fire-damaged rear walls, but ended up demolishing the entire structure — and as much as I’d like to say I’m sad to see it go, I can’t.
Some background from Baltimore Heritage:
The former St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum/Carver Hall Apartments buildings is a complex of structures built between 1860 and the 1910s to provide housing and medical services to dependent children and women, along with housing for the nuns who operated the facility. After years of declining use, the Infant Asylum left the facility around 1934 for a new location on Reisterstown Road. Around 1941, the building was converted to use as Carver Hall Apartments offering a range of rental units to a largely African American group of tenants from the up through 2013. Since the 1970s, the management of the property has posed significant challenges for residents in the building with a major fire in 1978, a lawsuit in 1993 and issues with drug traffic and violence at the building in the 1900s. In January 2015, the building caught on fire destroying the roof and gutting much of the interior.
Tenants Denied Essential Services, No Maintenance
In early September of 2013, I was contacted by a tenant who lived in 1411 Division Street, then managed by a company with ties to a state delegate who represents part of Baltimore County, Jay Jalisi, HMJ Management. The tenant emailed me a copy of a notice that was posted in the building, along with a detailed description of conditions inside the building — she described a common tactic used by property owners who wanted to get their tenants (mostly poor, mostly Black women) to move out: denial of essential services, and a refusal to perform maintenance and repairs. There was serious water damage in hallways and apartments that resulted in mold, a lack of heat, broken door locks, a broken banister on the stairs, and electrical problems (most likely caused by the water damage). (Photos below supplied by the tenant, in 2013.)
The notice that was posted in the building was issued September 11, 2013, and instructed tenants they would have to move out no later than September 30 — in direct violation of Maryland law. At this point, there weren’t many tenants left, as most had moved because of the deteriorating conditions. The remaining tenants moved out, and on October 21, 2014, Baltimore Housing issued a violation notice to the owner, citing uninhabitable conditions. Too late for these tenants, sadly.
Fire and New Ownership
The building stood empty for almost two years, and in January of 2015, a three alarm fire gutted most of the interior, requiring the service of over 120 Baltimore City firefighters to extinguish the blaze. Another violation notice was issued by Baltimore Housing, ordering the owner to either demolish or rehab the property.
By the time this notice was issued, the property had been sold to its current owner, 1411 Division Street, LLC (forfeited in December of 2017), a company registered in Delaware. The company’s principal office is listed as “Michael Chetrit, c/o Chetrit Organization, 1718 Broadway” in New York. Michael Chetrit is the son of Joseph Chetrit, who was described by Crain’s Business as a “real estate baron” who was accused of money laundering. Charges were dropped after he settled a lawsuit and agreed to cooperate in further investigations.
The Demolition, and Hopefully a Lesson Learned
And now, the sad conclusion to this winding tale — the destruction of this once-useful building. Originally constructed for benevolent purposes, it remained a fixture in its Upton neighborhood until its demise yesterday. Once the building sat vacant for some time after the fire, many residents were happy to see it go — not so much, though, the preservationists who took to social media to voice their dismay.
While I understand the outcry about losing a piece of Baltimore’s history, I can’t help but wonder why the building didn’t demand the same amount of attention when it was occupied. The tenants who lived at 1411 Division Street over the years, and particularly at the end of 2013, deserved our attention, more so perhaps than the actual building. When we idealize structures and place them above people in our priorities, it’s not a good look. This building could have been preserved and given historic designation back in 2013, or even before, and continued its use as affordable housing for Baltimore’s families.
Organizing a building’s tenants around the idea of historic preservation is an idea I encourage all preservationists to make a critical part of their work. Giving tenants in a low-income building, especially, lends itself to “pride of place”, and working with the owner to ensure the building is properly maintained, would not only benefit the neighborhood, but the existing tenants. If this is something that interests you, I encourage you to read this thesis (link opens a PDF) — it’s 352 pages long, but well worth the read, if neighborhood historic preservation is your hobby or professional position.