Modern Drama Meets Baltimore History At The Enoch Pratt House

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The Maryland Historical Society's Historic Home Will Temporarily Reopen as Site of Edgar Allan Poe-Related Immersive Theater Performance

A juxtaposition of a 1920s and modern photograph of 201 W. Monument Street show little change in the Pratt House exterior.

“When Enoch Pratt lived at this fashionable Monument Street address, never in his dreams could he envision that one day, a group of avant-garde theater performers would help to revive it,” says Maryland Historical Society President Burt Kummerow. Closed to the public for over a decade, the Enoch Pratt House (201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201) will temporarily re-open in March, 2015, as the venue for The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe, an immersive theater project. Thanks to the generous support of PNC, the building, which is listed on the National Register as part of the Mount Vernon Place National Historic Landmark District, will serve as a temporary setting for the performance.

“As a leading supporter of Baltimore’s cultural and arts organizations, PNC is proud to partner with the Maryland Historical Society to reopen the doors of the Enoch Pratt House and give a new generation access to one of Baltimore’s cultural gems,” said Will Backstrom, PNC Client & Community Relations Director. “With its rich history, it is the perfect venue to host innovative arts projects that will enrich the Baltimore community.”

The building’s revival during the next few years as an innovative education and arts center illustrates the connection between Baltimore’s rapidly growing theater scene and the revitalization of some of the city’s most historic spaces. “Its location could not be more ideal,” says Kummerow. “The House’s Monument Street address is on a main corridor between the Mount Vernon Cultural District and the Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District, two neighborhoods known for stunning 19th century architecture and a rapidly growing theater community. It is located at the edge of an entire block devoted to preserving and interpreting Maryland’s 400-year history!”

Mesmeric Revelations is a new, interpretive artwork created by a collective of Baltimore performers and artists assembled by Glenn Ricci, a recipient of a 2014 Rubys artist project grant given by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. The performance features six characters representing both real-life and fictional inhabitants of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Dramatic highlights will unfold on the first floor of the Pratt House and include representations of mesmerization, a ballroom scene, and a séance. "The Enoch Pratt House will be like another character in the show—and it really does have a great deal of character,” Ricci says. The performance will take place Thursdays through Saturdays from March 26 to early May, 2015 at 8 PM. For tickets, visit myedgarallanpoe.com.

A House ‘Tailor Made’ for Its Role

Constructed in 1846, just three years before Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious death in Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt House is tailor-made for its role in The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe.

The three story, mansard roof, five-by-four bay brick structure was built in a wave of high-end development radiating from Baltimore’s Washington Monument and its cross-shaped parks. Mount Vernon Place, named for George Washington’s Virginia estate, was designed to be a district of the elite with the latest amenities. It is one of the best examples of deliberate 19th century city planning in America.

By the mid-1840s, the area immediately surrounding the monument was fully developed, and the nearby blocks were primed for development with gas and water systems and paved streets. Enoch Pratt constructed his Greek Revival home on just such a block. While nationally popular in the 1840s, the Greek Revival style was not widely adopted in Baltimore City, and the Enoch Pratt House is one of only three known remaining five bay Greek Revival homes in the area. From these, the Enoch Pratt House stands apart due to later additions. Shortly after the home’s completion, Pratt salvaged an 1836 marble portico from a local marble yard and tacked it to his entrance. Originally intended for a Washington, D.C. home off Lafayette Square, the portico is an extraneous but beautiful addition to the original recessed entrance.

Originally two and a half stories, the Enoch Pratt House was granted a third story and mansard roof addition in 1868. Designed by architect Edmund G. Lind, who also designed the nearby Peabody Institute, this Second Empire style addition was likely inspired by the mansard roof of Baltimore City Hall then in construction. The Maryland Historical Society made a series of minor alterations after moving to the house in 1919 and later adjoined it to modern museum facilities, but the historic fabric of the structure remains largely intact. The home and neighborhood are listed in the National Register of Historic Places within the Mount Vernon Place Historic District designated in 1971. In 2014, it was officially recognized as a City Landmark by the Baltimore City Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation.

The Re-Emergence of Baltimore’s Howard Street Corridor

While development of Mount Vernon Place reached its zenith in the late 19th century, the Howard Street corridor immediately to the west of the Enoch Pratt House would come of age later. The corridor, comprised roughly of Howard, Eutaw, and Paca Streets, became the center of Baltimore retail and entertainment industries in the 1920s-1930s. Citizens from all corners of the city flocked to the area to buy produce at Lexington Market, watch a play and later movies at one of the many theaters, or shop at a variety of department stores. Post World War II, retail shifted to the suburbs and many businesses closed, but today many of the buildings are being restored to their former glory. Mainstays like the Hippodrome France-Merrick Performing Arts Center and Lexington Market are growing their audiences, while newer theater companies set up shop in restored playhouses and contemporary art galleries display work in storefront windows.

Taking its name from the iconic clock tower, the Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District was established in 2012 and encourages healthy growth in the corridor by promoting new arts venues and helping to connect artists and business owners with public resources.

The Enoch Pratt House sits on the border of the Bromo Arts District and Mount Vernon Place, two historic neighborhoods with their own unique yet quintessentially Baltimore stories.

The Future of the Enoch Pratt House

As the Maryland Historical Society works towards the Pratt House’s future, it is proud to make this important piece of Baltimore architectural and cultural history accessible to the public, if only for two months this spring. The home will only be open to attendees of Mesmeric Revelations during performance dates between March and May. “Future plans call for interior improvements that will feature a special rental space and an education center,” Kummerow says, “We want to be sure to continue Enoch Pratt’s groundbreaking educational mission.”

Many Marylanders remember the Enoch Pratt House from a childhood field trip to the Maryland Historical Society, while historians recognize it as the 19th century home of one of Baltimore's most influential philanthropists who started the city’s public library system. However, in the coming years, the Maryland Historical Society hopes that the House will be recognized as a state-of-the-art education center that allows students to study history, architecture, and civics with digital tools.

About The Maryland Historical Society

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." Visit http://www.mdhs.org.

For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at lrodini(at)mdhs(dot)org or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.

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Laura Rodini
Maryland Historical Society
+1 (410) 685-3750 Ext: 322
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