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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Fred B. Shoken, 10/1983
Chamber of Commerce Building
Inventory No.: B-3706
Date Listed: 2/2/1983
Location: 400 Water Street & 17 Commerce Street, Baltimore, Baltimore City
Category: Building
Period/Date of Construction: 1904-1905
Architect/Builder: Architect: Charles E. Cassell
Description: The Chamber of Commerce Building is a 1904-1905 Renaissance Revival-style red brick building five floors in height. It has a low-pitched roof which is supported by steel trusses but largely hidden from view by a heavily corniced parapet. The building is eleven bays in its long (north-south) dimension and three bays wide. The east and west façades are mirror images of each other with an entrance in the third bay from the north. The south façade is symmetrical with an entrance in the center bay similar to those on the east and west. The north façade is similar to the south façade, but with no entrance. The building totally occupies the site which slopes gently to the south and east. The brick superstructure is bedded on a granite base which meets the sidewalk. Above the base, the first and second floors are rusticated by the indentation of every eighth brick course. Windows on these floors are double hung, with terra cotta flat arched lintels with projecting keystones. Above the second story is an egg-and-dart terra cotta stringcourse, defining the three upper stories. These stories are tied together with high arched windows with terra cotta spandrels at the fourth floor, and by fluted terra cotta pilasters between the windows, which are doubled where they meet the projecting end bays at all four corners. The interiors of the building are organized along a central corridor about twelve feet wide and running north-south from the elevators at the north end of the building. Each office has a masonry walk-in vault and cherry office doors with large transoms on the corridor. The original plaster coffered ceilings throughout the building have been partially covered by suspended ceilings. The fourth floor, the trading floor, has an ornate wooden entrance facing the elevator lobby. The fifth floor, a partial floor, was formerly a mezzanine over the trading floor. It contains an open light-well in the floor directly below an ornate skylight in the ceiling. The railings around the light-well and stairwells are of ornate cast-iron with wooden cap rails. Significance: The significance of the Chamber of Commerce Building derives from its architectural character and its historic role in Baltimore history. As a structure designed in the Renaissance Revival manner, the building displays certain distinctive features, primarily decorative, that were commonly employed during the rebuilding of the financial area in Baltimore following the Great Fire of 1904. These features include rustication; quoining; dentil, egg-and-dart, and modillion cornices; and pilasters. Certain points, however, separate the Chamber of Commerce Building from the other structures in the district. These points include a horizontal quality, as opposed to the verticality that generally marks the area, and being primarily a red brick structure in an area dominated by stone. Significance is also derived from association with the city’s commercial history. The building was constructed as a grain trading center with a trading room on the upper floor and offices for traders and exporters below. For many years during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Baltimore was the nation’s leading exporter of flour and cereal grains. Its deepwater port at the railhead of the Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and B&O lines gave it a natural preeminence. During that period, before the era of modern communication, the focal point of the flow of trade was the exchange floor of the Chamber of Commerce. This building is the second grain trading center to occupy this site, the first one, constructed in the 1880s and said to have been similar in design to the present structure, having burned in the Great Fire. The association elected to continue in the same location and employed Charles Cassell of Baltimore to prepare drawings for the new building. Construction was begun in the summer of 1904.


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