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What’s in a name? For Johns Hopkins, the executive director of Baltimore Heritage Inc., a vibrant, 50-year-old non-profit that advocates historic preservation for the economic revitalization of Baltimore, it’s not snobbery. As a collateral descendant of the Johns Hopkins, the 40-year-old Bolton Hill resident is a distant relative whose strongest links with his famous forebear are Quaker roots and a passion for service.
After graduation from Yale, Hopkins headed to law school at George Washington University. “But after two years as an attorney in Washington, I felt other people were out there having all the fun,” he says. “I wanted to be out there doing things.”
So off to the University of Michigan he went for a master’s in environmental policy, then came to Maryland to work on then-Gov. Parris Glendening’s Smart Growth initiative. As director of its Maryland Smart Codes program from 1999 to 2003, Hopkins worked to eliminate barriers to the redevelopment of neighborhoods.
About that time, Baltimore Heritage, an organization that began in the spring of 1960 after architect W. Boulton Kelly organized a tour showcasing fine city architecture at a time when the “demolish first and plan second” credo often governed urban renewal, was feeling the need for a paid executive director. Johns Hopkins became the first full-time executive director in 2003, and he immediately knew it was a perfect fit. “My wife says I have an irrational love of Baltimore,” he says.
Before Hopkins came on board, Baltimore Heritage was well-established as a tenacious protector of city neighborhoods and architecture. It had worked to stop the demolition of City Hall in the 1960s, the building of an interstate through Fells Point in the ’70s, the demolition of the B & O warehouses and Camden Station in the ’80s and a demolition-based redevelopment plan for the West Side in the ’90s.
The scrappy non-profit had lost some battles, too. One thousand houses were demolished to allow the building of the “Highway to Nowhere,” a 11/2-mile stretch of Route 40 West through Harlem Park and Midtown-Edmondson. In 1984, the Tower Building, deemed an equal to the Bromo-Seltzer
Tower, was torn down.
Since he’s come on board, Hopkins counts the 100-year-old Rochambeau Apartments on Charles Street (torn down in 2006) as a significant loss. But the Laurence Hall Fowler-designed house “Castalia” and the Scottish Rite Temple in Tuscany-Canterbury have both been added to the city’s landmark list, and the Captain’s House in Fells Point and a flour warehouse with a water tower on Guilford Avenue also have been saved.
“Right now we’re heavily focused on West Baltimore,” says Hopkins. “We’re working with communities to prevent ‘demolition by neglect’ of historic neighborhoods and buildings.” Current initiatives there include preserving the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the oldest Jewish orphanage in the country; the Sellers Mansion on Lafayette Square; and the “Superblock,” where 16 structures, including one of 20 remaining cast iron buildings in the city, stand near the former Brager-Gutman’s department store. To help in the effort, Hopkins recently hired a field officer to work in historic African-American neighborhoods.
To keep up with the times, Baltimore Heritage has added a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and continues to offer its successful monthly behind-the-scenes tours and annual neighborhood walking tours. A Centennial Homes program, the first in the country, recognizes families who have owned city homes for 100 years.
On June 11, the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a walking tour of historic buildings on Mount Vernon Square and a gala at a home Baltimore Heritage helped to save: the beautiful Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.
For information about walking tours, endangered buildings and tickets to the June 11 gala, call 410-332-9992 or visit http://www.baltimoreheritage.org