July 5, 2011

Johns Hopkins assists Mount Vernon revamp

Newly planted flowers and shrubs pop and bloom around Baltimore’s Washington Monument and nearby green space, thanks in part to a seed grant from the Johns Hopkins University’s President’s Office and Peabody Institute. Johns Hopkins is also lending its support to help jump-start a push to fully make over the rest of the Mount Vernon Place environs in time for the monument’s 200th anniversary in 2015.

In February, the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation conditionally approved a new master plan for Mount Vernon Place, the plus sign–shaped public park system that has the Washington Monument at its center. The area is bound by Madison Street to the north, Centre Street to the south, St. Paul Street to the east and Cathedral Street to the west. The Peabody Institute sits right below Mount Vernon Place’s east park.

The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy sponsored the area’s new master plan, which was prepared by the Olin Partnership, a leading U.S. urban landscape design and preservation firm. The conservancy—founded by engaged citizens from the Mount Vernon–Belvedere Association and Friends of Mount Vernon Place—seeks to reverse years of decline by improving the area’s landscaping and maintenance and, long term, securing funds for the park’s phased restoration, including the repair and reopening of the Washington Monument to the public.

The conservancy, in partnership with Baltimore City, began raising funds this spring. In response, Peabody and the university issued a $15,000 challenge grant, conditional upon nine nearby property owners contributing to the landscaping fund. Within two months, the conservancy secured 100 percent participation, raising $65,000.

Andrew Frank, special adviser on economic development to the university’s president and a board member of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy, said that Johns Hopkins and President Ronald J. Daniels felt an obligation to help move this project forward and let Mount Vernon Place shine in a way it hasn’t in decades.

“The president is very engaged with the neighborhoods around our Baltimore campuses,” he said. “Mount Vernon Place can and should be viewed as an amenity by Peabody students and faculty. The park and the surrounding environment are really an extension of the campus.”

Jeffrey Sharkey, director of the Peabody Institute, agrees.

“Peabody has been an anchor of Mount Vernon Place since we opened our doors in 1866,” Sharkey said. “Our students, staff, faculty and concertgoers are part of the neighborhood’s lifeblood, and this exciting restoration project, long overdue, will increase its appeal to both residents and visitors.”

The four parks have been in slow but steady decline in recent years. The area’s sidewalks and the steps leading up to the monument are crumbling and showing signs of age. The landscape has not been maintained, and several drainage issues exist.

The city-owned Washington Monument, designed by architect Robert Mills, was closed to the public last summer due to safety concerns. Specifically, an engineering firm found flaws in the balcony, including some missing mortar and rusting metal support brackets.

The 178-foot-tall monument was constructed between 1815 and 1829 and predates the more famous Mills-designed Washington Monument in the nation’s capital.

Following an RFP process, Ruppert Landscape was selected to lead the project.

Last month, landscapers planted flowers and other greenery in the north and south parks, the cast iron urns around the monument and all the concrete urns on the plaza and throughout the squares. All urns and new planting beds will be watered and maintained until the end of October. Some perennial plants were also installed.

Meanwhile, other projects in the parks are moving forward. Fifty hanging baskets will be installed on park lampposts in July. Crews throughout the summer will repair and paint 36 benches, install eight new tables and 48 new chairs, and inspect and prune trees and bushes. Edging and general maintenance will also be done.

Frank said that roughly $12 million needs to be raised to complete the north and south squares, begin work on the east and west squares, and fulfill the majority of capital improvements laid out in the master plan.

He said that JHU will not have a direct role in raising the capital funds, as that will fall on the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy.