Activist Wants Read’s To Stay A Historic Landmark

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — After much debate and discussion by city leaders, one Baltimore building is now a historic landmark. The designation is temporary, though.

Gigi Barnett explains some activists want it to stay on the city’s historic list permanently.

Abandoned and vacant for years, the old Read’s Drug Store is the site of a 1955 lunch counter sit-in.

This past week Baltimore City’s Preservation Board granted the building a six-month landmark designation.

The vote stalled a multi-million dollar construction project designed to revitalize the area near Lexington and Howard Streets known as the “Superblock.”

That means Read’s is safe for now.

“Now the next step would be to make it permanent,” said a spokesperson for Read’s.

That’s what Civil Rights activist Dr. Helena Hicks wants.

She was part of the group of Morgan State college students who planned the sit-in more than five decades ago and years before the start of the Civil Rights movement. She says a planned demolition of Read’s could mean a loss for Baltimore’s history.

“If you go any place in the world, you go and look at its history,” said Hicks.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says keeping the past and building the future can happen at the same time.

“I have opened the door with the commissioners and the preservationists to sit down at the table and try to develop a monument or experience that would tell the story of the protesters and Baltimore’s place in Civil Rights history,” said Rawlings-Blake.

In the preservation plan, developers have agreed to keep two walls standing of the store. Activists say that is not enough.

The 1955 Read’s sit-in happened five years before the famous lunch counter protest at Woolworth’s store in Greensboro,N.C.

More from Gigi Barnett
  • Ex-Baltimore

    Well, ok, then do something with the site! It just amazes me all this fuss and talk about saving a historic landmark of the Civil Rights Era, only to leave it sitting empty to rot. It’s sad we make gains in Civil Rights to be able to eat, shop, and live somewhere only to have whites move away, blacks move in, and then overnight we have a blighted decrepid ghetto. Most of the country is like this. We gain the ability to move in, but the the places we succeed at doing this soon become the most undesirable places to be. Case in point: As comedian Chris Rock once said, why is it that all streets named after Rev. Martin Luther King are the parts of the city you don’t want to avoid.

    • So what should be done?

      It would be interesting to hear more what the preservationists envision for that building and location. It can’t sit as it has…as it will just continue to be an area that is dilapidated and devoid of people. The full building can’t be just renovated back to the design of Read’s store…it would be difficult to bring any commercial or other business or entity to such a location when the downtown already does not have the market appeal as other parts of the city. It can’t be turned into a museum when the city and donors are already struggling to keep existing museums open.

      I too want to hear, or have more reports on what can be done with the building rather than just hear and see reports to not tear it down. Preserving history and places with history are important…and those that have survived have done it because there is a plan. What is the plan and vision preservationists have for this area and this building? Preservationists– there is now a 6 month window for you to rapidly organize and provide a vision (though if you really want to have impact the vision must be publicly shared much much sooner).

      Dr. Hicks, Johns Hopkins, others?

      • VIETTA


    • Hamilton girl

      Very well put Ex-Balto. I totally agree with you and you said it well. Why is it that every time someone pushes to save a landmark or dedicate an area to a Civil Rights leader that within a few years it IS nothing more than a drug haven, laden with crime, drugs and prostitutes? Martin Luther certainly would not be proud of that. And why on earth would the city ever want to keep a building but let it remain vacant?

      I remember a Read’s drugstore with the soda fountain/counter in Hamilton. It was an awesome place to hang out. One could get lemon phosphates- can’t get those anywhere else now. It doesn’t exist anymore.. Buildings need to be torn down unfortunately — to make way for progress and move ahead — especially if it is sitting vacant.
      Let it go people and show a little more pride in the areas and things dedicated to people who did represent Civil Rights.. Take pride in what you have already achieved and stop trying to save everything just to prove a point. You can’t save everything as a reminder of the Civil Rights Era. Let it go, move on and start to take care of and take pride in what you DO have that represents this time period.

  • Ex-Baltimore

    Correction: the end of what I wrote above should read, why is it that all streets named after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. are the parts of the city you want to avoid, as said by commedien, Chris Rock.

    • Wilford Harris III

      This is because black neighborhoods are the areas where it is more easily accepted to change a street name to MLK

  • Doug

    They could always make a Crack Boutique out of it

  • Amirah

    I do agree that preseving history is important. It is ridiculous to preserve a building to watch it fall down because now no one wants to purchase it. This defeats the purpose. The preservation of the two exterior walls was a good plan. The building could have been renovated and used to bring a viable shooping district to the downtown area.

    Now all we have is a historically designated building which continues to fall down, no new jobs or shopping area and no plans for the future of that area.

  • whatnow

    Yes, make a monument out of it. Then make it mandatory that every school child in this city has to go look at it and see what black people sacrificed back in the day for freedom (have them read Condoleeza’s autobiography also). Maybe the next generation of black children can then grow up with the same integrity and worth ethic of this previous generation. Then we can look at today’s criminals as just an anomoly!

  • L Nick

    In Asheville NC, an old pharmacy with a lunch counter has been restored and now serves the community as an art gallery and the lunch counter operates in its original way. I thought this might be something to consider for this building and still save its history.

  • Holly

    If the people inthe neighbohood are so proud of this bildings history why did they let it sit vacant and unattended for years? If the black community turly means to prove thay have made strides since the lunch counter sit-in they need to come together and fund a thriving business inthis location not stand in front of it with cardboard signs. It is your neighborhood, show me that you mean to keep it a place where people WANT to live.

  • Doug

    Massage parlor’s always seem to do well.

  • jer

    Why do all of these buildings need to be landmarks. People need to wake up and realize that we need to start modernizing and quit wasting space with all these useless landmarks.

  • Wilford Harris III

    In Greensboro, NC the old Woolworth’s Buildng(lunch counter sit-in site) into a Civil rights Museum!

  • L. Murray

    Turning it into a museum has a couple of road blocks: who’s going to fund it (especially, as previously stated, we are already having trouble funding museums that–with all due respect–are far more substantial than this one would be) and what would be in it? Everything inside that Reads location is gone; so, what, we’re going to have people walk around a square-shaped room and look at pictures and news articles?

    Re-opening it and “re-creating” the old drug store/lunch counter feel would be fantastic, but considering its location, how long do you think that business would be a clean, safe and stable environment to visit?

    It comes down to this: we have a large, wonderful city filled with an extremely fascinating history–home to many notable people in the history of the entire world. We have so many people who care so much to restore and revive the city to make it an even more wonderful place; unfortunately, those people are out-numbered by those who don’t care its history and don’t care about the quality of life here. This is true for many places in the world, not just Baltimore, but we are fighting a losing battle and we always will. Because of that, we need to choose those battles wisely.

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