Photo credit: Janet Davis , 07/1985

Property Name: Cathedral Hill Historic District
Date Listed: 4/27/1987
Inventory No.: B-118
Location: Baltimore, Baltimore City

Description: The Cathedral Hill Historic District is a concentration of commercial, religious, and institutional buildings covering approximately 10 blocks in downtown Baltimore that are linked historically and architecturally. Its general boundaries are Hamilton Street on the north, St. Paul Place on the east, Saratoga Street on the south, and Cathedral Street and Park Avenue on the west. The buildings are mostly commercial in use, with the exception of four large churches, dominated by the Catholic Basilica of the Assumption or "The Cathedral," and several large institutional buildings, most of which have been converted to commercial use. The District originally was mostly rowhouses, which began to be converted to combined residential and commercial use about the middle of the 19th century. By the time of the Baltimore Fire of 1904, the District was mostly commercial and the rowhouses had been largely altered by the addition of plate glass display windows and projecting bays. The Fire caused massive relocations of businesses and shops into the District with increasing remodelings of existing buildings and construction of new buildings. The present building types range in size from two-story commercial structures and converted rowhouses to 14-story office buildings. The inclusive dates of significance range from 1790 to 1940, when the last structure important to the historic and architectural character of the district was erected. The stylistic range covers Federal, Greek Revival, the various Renaissance Revival styles of the Victorian period, the Beaux-Arts Classical Revival, and the Art Deco movement. Most have stone or brick façades with metal, wood, and stone detailing. The street plan is basically a grid, except for Saratoga Street along the southern boundary. The integrity of the District remains high in spite of alterations and post-World War II construction.

Significance: The Cathedral Hill Historic District is significant to Baltimore for it contains several of the most important 19th century religious and institutional structures built in Baltimore, as well as the heart of the city’s elite retail district of the early to mid 20th century. The architectural quality of the District is epitomized by the nationally recognized Basilica of the Assumption, the First Unitarian Church, the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church, and Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Partly in response to the elegance and quality of these buildings and the prestigious residential neighborhood which grew around them, fraternal orders and social organizations erected large, well-designed headquarters buildings in the Cathedral Hill District. These included the Masonic order in 1867, the YMCA in 1873, and a second YMCA building in 1907, the International Order of Odd Fellows in 1891, and the YWCA in 1915. The 200-500 blocks of North Charles Street included in the District developed from a wealthy residential neighborhood in the mid-19th century to the most elegant retail district by the early 20th century. The previously established sophistication in architectural design, the "carriage trade" clientele, and the upsurge in building in the aftermath of the 1904 fire in the Baltimore business district produced an almost continuous line of stone and brick façades on Charles Street which led to its being described as the "rue de la Paix" or "Fifth Avenue" of Baltimore. With few intrusions, the Cathedral Hill District retains the character of a unique mixed neighborhood of churches, institutions, and commercial buildings. In the area of religion, the Basilica of the Assumption is nationally significant in its own right as the first Roman Catholic cathedral erected in the United States. The First Unitarian Church is similarly important as the first structure built for a Unitarian group in America. On a local level, the Old St. Paul’s Church symbolizes the oldest Episcopal parish in Baltimore, established in 1692. The Odd Fellows Hall was the national headquarters of the social and fraternal order from 1891 until the mid-20th century. The Women’s Industrial Exchange on North Charles Street is significant in both the social/humanitarian field and in architecture, founded to aid destitute women after the Civil War and occupying since 1899 a mid-19th century rowhouse with few alterations.


Boundary Map

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