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The Nose

Stein House Stymie

2408 Linden Ave.

Posted 11/6/2002

"A house is a house is a house" is how modernist writer and Lost Generation den mother Gertrude Stein might have put things. But when we're talking about a house that once housed Stein herself, a house is not just a house, but a Registered National Historic Place. Such is the case with Reservoir Hill's 2408 Linden Ave., where the plucky woman of letters lived for a year or so back in 1892. The teenaged Stein had been residing in California but came to live on Linden following the deaths of her parents. The house--built in 1886--belonged to her uncle-in-law, photographer David Bachrach. There used to be a metal plaque attached to the house explaining its Stein connection, but vandals made off with it some years ago, leaving only screw holes behind. But as of September, the house has worn a sign of another sort--one that doesn't point out the address' illustrious past but its uncertain future. It comes courtesy of the Baltimore City Housing Authority and reads condemned. Alas, Gertie wouldn't know the place today. Boarded up and abandoned, the Victorian pile--complete with mansard roof and elaborate side porch--is a decaying heap slathered in faded mocha shingles. So what happened to the place? And more importantly, what's going to happen to it? The Nose started sniffing around for answers weeks ago, but so far we have turned up little. The house is owned by Baltimore H.O.P.E. (Housing Opportunities through Presbyterian Enterprise), but the nonprofit group's leader, the Rev. Curtis Jones, didn't return any of the half-dozen messages we left for him. (This didn't give us much hope that the house is in good hands.) Next, we turned to the city Housing Authority, where spokesperson Kevin Brown was chatty if not overwhelmingly fact-filled.

"It's a fabulous property, but it needs a lot of work," Brown says. "The [owners] have sat on it for almost two years, and the city has pretty much had enough of their inactivity. What's probably going to happen is that we're going to make an offer to take it back from [Baltimore H.O.P.E.] and re-offer it for development. Because of its historic nature, and with all the new interest in Reservoir Hill, I can see people just jumping on it."

Well, maybe. But did we mention the place is a wreck? As recently as the 1980s this wasn't the case. In 1984 the house was inhabited and described as being in "good" shape. We learned this from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form that the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has tucked away in its files. The address achieved Historic Place status in 1985, and not because of Stein so much as her uncle. The nomination form details Bachrach's pioneering photographic efforts--inventing an important film-developing process and taking historic photos, including the only shot of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.

So you can call it the Bachrach House, or you call it the Stein House. The Nose just calls it a damn shame.

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