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Franklin Street Façade Improvements Strengthen Community

On the west side of Baltimore’s downtown, Franklin Street serves as a major thoroughfare, carrying traffic from the heart of the city to its western neighborhoods. For over a century, the Mutual Benefit Society Building, now occupied by Legal Services Associates, Inc., has been a major part of this significant corridor. Thanks to the state of Maryland, the Neighborhood Design Center, ArchPlan Inc. Philipsen Architects and the Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore-based job training initiative, this historic gem received a facelift that will benefit both the business inside and the surrounding corridor.

This project is part of the Maryland Business Recovery Storefront Improvement Program, which is funded by Governor Larry Hogan and his approval of a $650,000 allocation from the Rainy Day Fund. The program assists businesses in updating their facades to improve the small business climate as well as the overall aesthetics of Baltimore City by engaging local architects through the Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Baltimore Heritage.

Based on design guidance provided by ArchPlan Inc. Philipsen Architects, the building at 407 W. Franklin received a top-to-bottom facelift on its façade, with the crew of workers from Living Classrooms scraping off the old flaky paint that covered the building. This work revealed missing mortar that had to be filled in between the bricks. Repairs were also made to the cornices above the windows and some of the other unique architectural features of the building. The entire exterior was then sealed and painted twice.

“We’re getting compliments on the façade as well as the work that was done along the side of the building,” remarked Prenterald C. Price, who owns the building and founded Legal Services Associates, Inc. He has referred the program to some of the other businesses in his neighborhood. “The program is great, and I hope it serves as much of the downtown community as possible.”

The Storefront Improvement Program is about more than beautifying Baltimore’s historic buildings. The program includes an emphasis on workforce development, using nonprofit contractors that hire from within the community. The work on 407 W. Franklin was undertaken by Living Classroom’s Project SERVE, an initiative focused on training Baltimore’s disadvantaged and formerly incarcerated young adults on the various skills and crafts required in the construction industry, aiming to prepare the program’s participants to get permanent jobs.

John Daniello, the construction manager on the project for Living Classrooms, said that this experience was beneficial to those involved in the project. From mortar repairs to safely removing flaking paint, he said the project “helped to train some folks in skills they never had before.” The work on the scaffolding outside the three-story building meant that some workers had to confront their fear of heights, but that it was valuable for the Project SERVE participants to “be able to work a job that is a little bit out of their comfort zone.” Daniello also noted that everyone on the crew appreciated that their work had historical significance, helping bring the building back to its original splendor.