MHT File Photo
Business and Government Historic District
Baltimore, Baltimore City
The Business and Government Historic District consists primarily of a cohesive group of governmental and commercial buildings that are located in the historic center of Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. The district is generally characterized by classically influenced façades that line the street. The commercial buildings range from small two and three story high storefront structures to modern 25-story high office towers. Although there are extant buildings from the early 19th century to the present day, the overwhelming majority of buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1925, most in the decade following the 1904 fire. Generally the buildings feature classical detailing, symmetry, brick or smooth stone façades, and a heavy cornice at the roof line. However, there is a wide range of styles in this heterogeneous, urban district. Among the most distinctive structures in the district are the small classical banks, early high rise office buildings, "revival buildings" (small commercial structures designed as the revival of a foreign architectural style), and the courthouses. The street plan conforms to a fairly strict grid pattern. Major landscaping features are Monument Square centered on the 52-foot marble Battle Monument erected 1815-1825, War Memorial Plaza to the west of the War Memorial building, and the open space in front of the Fish Market. Grand scaled government buildings, generally classical in decoration, stand along the north edge with the Fish Market in the east section and the customs related building in the south section. Although many of the structures in the area have been altered to a certain degree, there is a high degree of integrity within the built environment of the district.
The Business and Government Historic District is significant in Baltimore history for it illustrates the economic, commercial, and physical growth of the city, particularly from the last half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Included within the Business and Government Historic District are Baltimore’s financial, governmental, and marketing centers that developed side-by-side since the 18th century. The district also incorporates much of the original Baltimore Town as planned in 1729 and a large section of the region destroyed by the Great Fire of 1904. Found in the district are elaborately decorated buildings of monumental scale erected by the Federal and city governments, which illustrate the economic, commercial, and political status of the city. Also contributing to the historical and architectural character of the district are large scaled, multi-storied commercial structures heavily ornamented with classical and Art Deco decoration that were built for banks, insurance companies, investment firms, railroads, and other major businesses that were often prominent in state and national affairs. Linking the major civic and commercial landmarks and creating the general character of the district are rows of early 20th century low scale, generally two to four stories, commercial retail and warehouse buildings for which most of the façades display Georgian Revival decorative detailing such as modillioned cornices, Palladian windows, and quoining. Although several of the buildings in the district are the work of nationally and regionally prominent architects such as D.H. Burnham and Company; McKim, Mead and White; Hornblower and Marshall; Baldwin and Pennington; and Wyatt and Nolting, the buildings in the district are generally conservative in design, reflecting the traditional ideas of architectural design at the time.