BALTIMORE, Md. One thing is now for certain: The St. Stanislaus Kostka Church building, located here in the heart of the equally historic Fell's Point waterfront neighborhood, is in no danger of being torn down by the Conventual Franciscan Friars, owners of the extensive and extremely valuable 1.7 acres church complex. The church was closed by the Franciscans in 2000 after 111 years of faithful service to the local Polonia, who struggled early on - being newly arrived from the ‘old country' - to build the church with their faith, sweat, blood and collective small money. On March 6, 2008 at a hearing of the Baltimore City Planning Commission, the Franciscans publicly acknowledged and conceded CHAP (Commission for Architectural and Historic Preservation) protective status for the church building. However, the Franciscans strongly objected to, and vehemently disputed, CHAP status for the 1795 building on their property know as "Four-Bay Mansion," so called because of its most unique and exceedingly rare large bay windows.
This large building fronts in the middle of the Aliceanna St. side of the church complex (to the far right in above photo) and thus greatly complicates the task of any future developer who would require maximum condo density to insure a handsome profit. Originally, the developer planned for a mix of 24 condos with an estimated starting price of $700,000 to $800,000 - and up. At this point, and to the great dismay of the Franciscans, the Mansion appears to be on the fast track for CHAP protection since it was not included in the Franciscan's demolition permit that predated CHAP.
The St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish and Slavic Church Museum Committee, composed mostly of former parishioners and concerned local Polonia, had battled the Franciscans in prolonged court proceedings over a disputed contract to purchase the church building. The Committee wanted to convert the church - as is - into an ethnic museum and cultural center. Finally, in June of 2007 the Maryland of Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in favor of the Franciscans, thus invalidating the implied contract with the Committee.
But as the Committee fought the good but losing fight (sounds all too familiar, doesn't it?) all was not lost: As the contractual matter wound it's way through the courts almost nothing could be done on the property until all the legal dust settled. CHAP status was extended to the entire Fell's Point neighborhood only a few months after the end of the Committee imposed legal limbo. Consequently, the Franciscans lost their former special, unrestrained zoning/building status for the church complex. Now they must adhere to very strict building restrictions and regulations in many different respects.
It would seem that some poetic justice was served when the Franciscans were given their taste defeat, due mainly to the tenacious legal maneuvering of the Committee all the way to one of the highest courts in Maryland.
Concerned civic organizations such as the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell's Point, Baltimore Heritage, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all were very instrumental, and exercised powerful influence, in bringing about CHAP protection in regards to the St. Stanislaus crusade.
As for now, the Franciscans, by their own public admission, are back to square one: Their condo developer has pulled out of the deal due to the legal delay and newly imposed building restrictions; the private Catholic-run academy for minority students, located in the former convent, is moving to an already existing and presently shuttered Catholic school; and the really bizarre, totally unfeasible Franciscan plan to gut and convert the church into a multi-level school building has been abandoned forthwith.
There is no doubt that the Franciscans will retain, or renew, their pre-CHAP Baltimore City issued demolition permit to pull down the school, parish hall, convent and any other ancillary structures on site not protected by CHAP - as they have already done to the imposing friary building. Only the church building, and most probably the Four-Bay Mansion will remain standing. And for sure the hunt for a new condo developer is already well underway.
Cautionary note: CHAP status only protects the exterior integrity of any said building, and does not apply to the interior of it. So the Franciscans and their developer have a free hand to do anything they like inside of the building, including gutting it for conversion to any use they wish or deem profitable.
And so the sad saga of St. Stanislaus Church continues...and to what end finally?
I also recommend Patron Saints: A Feast of Holy Cards, by Barbara Calamari and Sandra di Pasqua