Jennifer Goold, Betty Bird and Associates, 08/2003
Equitable Gas Works
1401 Severn Street , Baltimore, Baltimore City
Period/Date of Construction:
The Equitable Gas Works is a U-shaped complex occupying an entire city block adjacent to CSX tracks in Spring Gardens, an industrial precinct in South Baltimore. The complex consists of five 1882-1883 Romanesque Revival painted brick buildings and one 1947 office building. The rectangular 19th century buildings range from one to two stories in height, are set on semi-coursed stone foundations, and are topped with monitor and gable roofs. The buildings exhibit a recessed wall plane behind paired brick pilasters and corbeled brick cornices and oculus openings set within their gables. The purifying house (c. 1882-83) and the office (c. 1882), linked by the valve room, form an L that centers the site. The base of the L faces west onto Severn Street. The site north of the purifying house is excavated for access to its basement. The two retort houses, built in 1882 and 1883, and linked by the engine room frame, have their southern facades aligned and face south onto a yard north of the purifying house and office. A long secondary facade of the 1882 retort house fronts Severn Street. The site north of the retort houses is excavated for access to their basements. The c. 1883 generator house projects form the east facade of the 1883 retort house, and faces east. A rail spur and coal sheds (now gone) were located on the northern margin of the site. Holders (now gone) occupied the southern portion of the site. Size, scale, massing, and architectural and decorative features unify the 1882 and 1883 buildings. The form of the buildings loosely follows that of a basilica. Gable ends have three bays articulated by paired pilasters. The center bay of the gable ends is reinforced by an oculus within the gable. The basilica form is especially evident on the primary (west) facade of the purifying house, where the center bay rises to a tower capped with a Mansard roof. The tower, which rests on corbeled brackets, rises above the front gable and masks the monitor that extends along the spine of the roof. Paired round-arched windows highlight the tower's elevations. The facade is symmetrical about its center bay. The entry reinforces the central axis. The office building is notable for its delicate wood louvered dormer with a sunburst-ornamented tympanum. The exposed structural system remains visible in the industrial buildings; historic finishes also survive in the office building. By 1901, gas-related uses had abandoned the site. Despite infill and alterations, the Equitable Gas Works complex retains all of its original brick buildings and remains clearly recognizable as a purpose-built, 19th century gas manufactory. Both the form and massing of the buildings and the quality and character of surviving architectural fabric provide important evidence of the stature of the manufactured gas industry in the late 19th century.
The Equitable Gas Works is Baltimore's most intact gas manufactory complex. Equitable Gas Works has historical significance for its association with the transformation of competitive markets in gas, electricity, and transit into regulated or municipally owned utilities. The manufactured gas industry is a significant component of Baltimore's manufacturing history; in 1816, Baltimore was the first city in the United States to be gas lit, ranking the gas manufacturing industry among Baltimore's famous "firsts." The Equitable Gas Works survives to represent the notable and short-lived period of competition and consolidation in the Baltimore manufactured gas industry, which lasted form 1871 to 1888. Despite infill buildings and additions constructed after 1901, the Equitable Gas Works retains all of its original brick manufacturing buildings and the complex remains recognizable as a purpose-built gas manufactory.