22-24, Howard St., S., Baltimore, Baltimore City
The Rombro Building is a six-story loft building constructed in 1881, located at the northwest corner of South Howard Street and Cider Alley in downtown Baltimore. It is six stories high, with a basement and shed roof, and measures 51'2" x 106'. The detached structure was designed as a double warehouse. However, there are no walls dividing the upper floors; merely a row of columns running lengthwise down the center of the open loft space. Two stone plaques near the top of the facade identify it as the Rombro Building, and small stone panels between the fifth and sixth stories carry numerals designating the date of construction: 1881. The Rombro Building is eight bays wide. The facade is divided in half by a central brick pier and pilaster running the full height of the structure that matches the two at the corners. It is further subdivided by four rows of columns, so that the window pattern across the entire face of the building (on floors two through five) reads 1:2:1--1:2:1. The deeply modeled facade has traces of the Queen Anne style in the heavy, projecting dormer-like sixth floor, and in the treatment of the windows. The materials are brick, stone, terra cotta, and cast iron for the framing of the first-floor storefronts. The building's south side, adjacent to the alley, has three rectangular windows on the first floor and two rectangular and two square windows on floors two through six. There are no windows on the north side. At the rear, two large arches rise through all the floors to the fifth. The left one is filled with four windows per floor; the right one, three. They are 9/9 sash for the most part, and on the fifth floor, the top sashes are curved to fit under the arches. Above these, at the sixth-floor level, are two horizontal rectangular openings filled with multi-paned windows.
The Rombro Building is significant as an example of a cast iron storefront/multistory loft type building. The building reflects the influence of the Queen Anne style in its facade organization and detailing; it incorporates brick, stone, terra cotta, and cast iron elements. The first floor facade features cast iron columns. The building retains good architectural integrity; the storefront retains most of its important cast-iron elements, and the upper floors are essentially unchanged. The Rombro Building, and its fraternal twin to the south, the Johnston Building, are among the few double warehouses remaining in Baltimore. Their colorful and elaborate Victorian facades distinguish them among the city's 19th century commercial structures. They represent an architectural use of cast iron--as storefront framing--of which relatively few examples remain. Cast iron columns were often employed to frame the first floors of otherwise masonry commercial building, because their compressive strength permitted them to be made more slender than brick or stone piers. With the enlarged openings filled with plate glass, they allowed plenty of light into the interior, along with a clear view of the merchandise on display. They were also decorative and could be quickly erected. The Johnston and Rombro buildings appeared within a year of one another, in 1880-1881, built by the same developer, the Johnston Brothers; designed by the same architect, Jackson C. Gott; and with their cast iron elements fabricated by the same factory, the Variety Iron Works. Over the years, they have housed wholesale companies dealing in tobacco, hats, shoes, clothing, and home and office furnishings. Some early occupants, such as Samuel Hecht, Jr., & Sons, later became significant retailers in Baltimore. Both structures have survived for more than a century with no irreversible alterations. The developers, architect, and foundry were all closely identified with Baltimore. Harriet Lane, the wife of one of the Johnston Brothers, was an important local philanthropist; these buildings were part of her legacy.