January 2, 2011

Centuries-old column installed at Miller building

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

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Some wags were expecting a bust of Senate President-for-life Mike Miller on the pedestal in the courtyard entrance to the building that bears his name. Instead, they might be surprised to find an artifact slightly older and drenched with as much history as Miller, who will begin a quarter-century as presiding officer in two weeks.

Last month, the capital (top) and base of a 190-year-old Latrobe column(right) that once graced the demolished old Court of Appeals building was installed, putting the finishing touches on last year’s $468,000 renovation of the courtyard entrance to the William S. James and Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Senate office buildings.

The final cost of cleaning, moving, and installing the column fragment was approximately $18,000, according to Victoria Gruber, Miller’s chief of staff.

Elaine Rice Bachmann, director of artistic property, exhibits and outreach at the Maryland State Archives, said the fragment had been in Cheltenham, Md. storage facility.

According to the plaque near the pedestal:

“This Ionic capital and base are part of one of the original twelve Italian marble columns that enclosed the central rotunda of the Baltimore Exchange, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Maximilian Godefroy in 1820. Latrobe introduced the profession of architecture and the Greek Revival Style to America, and is noted for his work on the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore.”

The Baltimore Exchange, reflecting the city’s commercial prominence, was frequently used for public meetings. When it was torn down in 1902, the columns were used for the new building for the Court of Appeals, once housed in the old State House. That is the same period in which the State House addition that now contains the House and Senate chambers was built.

That old Court of Appeals building was demolished in 1972 to make way for the Legislative Service Building, after a boxy modern court building was constructed a half-mile up Rowe Boulevard.

Most of the Latrobe columns are already on display.

Eight of them are on Rowe Boulevard adjacent to the Robert F. Sweeney District Court Building (left, Maryland State Archives photo.). A Baltimore Sun article in 2000 said the columns had sat in a field at the Jessup prison complex for 30 years.

Bachmann said two others are at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Historical Society.

She said the architect of the courtyard of the James-Miller Senate Office Complex intended to put “something of historical interest on display.”

The skylight dome by Louis Comfort Tiffany from the old Court of Appeals building is already part of the Miller building, which cost $24 million when it was built 10 years ago, according to published accounts. The James building was renovated eight years ago for $10.4 million.

“Much of the state-owned art – whatever is in good condition – is already on display” at state buildings in Annapolis and Baltimore, Bachmann said.