BJC Considers Baltimore Holocaust Memorial’s Future

(David Stuck photo)

The Baltimore Holocaust Memorial, located on a busy stretch of the 600 block of East Lombard Street, may have a new neighbor if the Cordish Cos.’ plans move forward to redevelop an adjacent vacant Baltimore City Community College building.

The memorial, sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council in 1980 and redesigned in 1997 to be more accessible and safe, includes a wide plaza interrupted by railroad tracks symbolizing the route millions took to death camps; a sculpture depicting emaciated bodies being consumed in flames; and other environmental and architectural features, such as cement walls, fences and period streetlamps to evoke boxcars, train stations and concentration camps. Information about the Holocaust and poignant quotes also enrich the visitor experience, including the words, “Those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it.”

About 10 years ago, Baltimore City Community College’s Bard Building, adjacent to the site on Lombard Street, was closed and speculation began about redevelopment of the BCCC site and whether it would be more attractive to developers if the Holocaust Memorial site were included.

The memorial site, a 1-acre parcel at the corner of Lombard and Gay streets, is owned by the Regents of the University of Maryland and Baltimore City Community College, the organizations that lease the parcel to the BJC.

About a year ago, Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. announced it had reached an agreement with BCCC to redevelop the site and unveiled plans for a high-rise, glass-sheathed, mixed-use tower. Plans were not inclusive of the adjacent memorial site.

“This is not a new conversation. It’s been going on 10 years. Ever since the community college closed its building next door,” said the BJC’s executive director, Howard Libit. “It turns out that at the moment, at least, what the college selected was a proposal that only focuses on the college building site, not both pieces of property. Which is fine. I don’t think a final deal has been reached. My understanding is that they are in a negotiating period and I don’t know what comes next.”

Libit said ideas floated over the decade have included relocating the memorial to a more vibrant, visible area, where aging Holocaust survivors and the public could easily access it.

“But certainly, whatever we do, we want to make sure if it were to move some day that the critical elements of the memorial would definitely have to be preserved, from the beautiful sculpture to some of the writings,” Libit said. “But the giant concrete slabs probably don’t have to be moved, we can come up with another memorial, and where it goes — there’s nothing specific on the table.”

Other site ideas have included the campus of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, nearby in Jonestown, and the Inner Harbor just a block away.

“We certainly want it to be high-profile and to make sure that it’s a place where it can remind people ‘never again,’” Libit said. “I think we’re all committed to making sure it’s a place that’s prominent and appropriate. It might very well work where it is.”

Libit said there are adequate endowment dollars available to pay for upkeep of the current site, for landscaping, snow removal and general cleaning.

“But I also know, when I go visit it, when I drive past it, when I stop and walk around it, there are rarely a lot of people there. I’m sure that the vacant college building doesn’t help,” he added. “So, if that building gets built and it becomes a thriving place of business and living and retail, certainly there’d be much greater traffic in the plaza and at the memorial.”

The Cordish Cos. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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