McKim Free School’s Executive Director Dwight Warren is passionate about “the classical Greek beauty” of his school, whose elegance shines through, “even in its current state.”
Indeed, its condition is what prompted the nomination of this designated Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) Landmark to the Endangered Maryland list.
Designed in 1835 as a replica of an ancient Greek temple, the structure has been called a perfect example of pure Doric architecture, explains Warren, who has been director for 25 years. But inherent in a building's value is its use. “The McKim Free School, dreamed of by John McKim and realized by his sons, was built to provide an education to the poor children of Baltimore without respect or preference to any religious sect or denomination.”
Having served needy children for 175 years, the building stands as a symbol of caring, generous assistance, says Warren, a McKim alumnus. “Much of that symbolic strength is derived from the massive stone walls, columns, lintels, pediment, and other features that are now at risk, caused by age, wear, and the elements. Cracking, spilling, water damage, and general deterioration threaten to accelerate these processes if not checked by repair and replacement.”
Even after free public education came to Baltimore at the end of the 19th century, McKim continued to provide services to underprivileged children. In the early 20th century, the school was run by other agencies and, eventually, by the McKim Community Association. Since then, support has come from religious and community groups, government agencies, and the public.
Warren is eager to see McKim become more able to accommodate future programs and to withstand the test of the elements, but financial and in-kind assistance is needed for the building to have a future.
Kathleen Kotarba, division chief of Historical and Architectural Preservation at the Baltimore City Department of Planning, agrees. “The city of Baltimore considers the McKim Free School to be one of its most important landmarks. It is the most archaeologically accurate building in Baltimore. Its history and its architecture are unsurpassed.”
The city has consistently invested in its preservation, says Kotarba. “We are fortunate to have a longstanding partnership with the McKim Community Center’s executive director and board. They explore all avenues to raise funds and they complete a considerable amount of work as volunteers.
“The city’s investment to date includes a 1980s complete exterior restoration of the building—roof replacement, masonry conservation, repainting, and fence restoration—administered by CHAP. Unfortunately, historic buildings do not stay restored. We have an urgent need to again stabilize and restore the masonry. The 25-year-old roof is failing and must be addressed immediately.”
While the city has limited funds for landmark preservation, “The city’s Department of General Services, the Baltimore National Heritage Area, and CHAP are committed to bringing attention to this treasure,” says Kotarba. “We appeal to the community at large for additional support of this truly unique landmark and community institution.”
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