BNHA Mount Vernon Place
Shaping a Monumental City: The City’s Growth in the 20th Century
Charles Street Byway
Points of Interest
Mount Vernon Place is the name for the Washington Monument, the four park squares that radiate from it like a Greek cross, and all of the old buildings that surround the squares. The front walls of fine buildings that line the squares create a three-dimensional space that provides a sense of enclosure. This type of three-dimensional civic space is found throughout Europe, but is rare in U.S. cities.
The heirs of John Howard Eager, a Revolutionary War hero, developed Mount Vernon Place. They had inherited almost all the land that surrounded the original Baltimore Town, and their mission was to maximize the return on the land. They sold to developers and citizens eager to participate in the expansion the city.
When the heirs donated a parcel of land on top of their wooded hill for the installation of the Washington Monument. They also laid out four public squares around the donated lot and rather large private building lots all around the four squares. After the monument was complete the lots were sold and Mount Vernon became the neighborhood for Baltimore’s elite.
In 1875, the landscape design for the north and south squares by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. was constructed. In 1902, the Olmsted Brothers landscape architects updated the design and completed the east and west squares. Their design included a system of curvilinear walks surrounding slightly mounded grass areas and planting beds, fountains and statues, and low brownstone entry walls and portals. Carrere and Hastings redesigned the parks again in 1916 and transformed them into the walks and Beaux Arts white marble balustrades and fountains of today.
Interestingly enough, Mount Vernon and Mount Vernon Place have not always been appreciated. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the buildings that surround the squares were targeted for demolition in a proposed urban renewal plan. Modern office buildings and museum complexes would have replaced all of the “old, worn out, and functionally obsolete” rowhouses facing the squares. In 1964, after a long and ugly fight, the newly emerging preservationists won the “Battle of Mount Vernon” and the urban renewal plan that finally emerged actually protected those same rowhouses from demolition. Mount Vernon Place became Baltimore’s first local historic district, and in 1971 was designated as a National Historic Landmark District.