The Congress Hotel, a legendary eight-story structure at Franklin and Eutaw streets where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once danced in the famed Marble Bar, is scheduled to be auctioned in foreclosure on the steps of the Clarence M. Mitchell Courthouse Tuesday.
The 105-year-old structure originally opened as the Kernan Hotel and was considered a hub in Baltimore’s theater district dating to the city’s vaudeville days. It was designed by Philadelphia architect John Allen.
Its stately features include white marble floors and walls, ornate carvings on arches and ceilings and vintage Baltimore black and white tile flooring, all throwbacks to 19th and 20th century Baltimore. It is designed in the unique French Renaissance Revival style.
The building and its amenities were given a new polish in 2000 as part of a $7.2 million renovation by local developer C. William Struever, who refurbished the building into luxury apartments, creating 36 one- and two-bedroom units, which opened in 2002. Today, most of the apartments are leased and an architectural firm, K. Lechleiter Architect LLC, is based in the old Congress Ballroom, located in the lobby area on the ground floor.
The 8,000-square-foot Marble Bar, located in the basement, was also being renovated by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, but that $800,000 project stalled and today it is being used as a storage room, an employee at the site said on Wednesday.
The auction will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will be conducted by Alex Cooper Auctioneers of Towson.
The Congress Hotel, located at 306 W. Franklin St., was built in 1903 by James L. Kernan, after he purchased four houses on the block and demolished them to make way for the structure. Francis O’Neill, the senior reference librarian for the Maryland Historical Society, said Wednesday the hotel had an underground tunnel leading to the Maryland Theater, and that many actors and patrons used that passageway.
Kernan defaulted on the mortgage in the 1920s, and the hotel was sold to the Firey family, who renamed it the Congress Hotel. In 1975, the hotel changed hands again to new owner Sam Palumbo, who owned it through the mid-1980s and changed its focus to a single-room occupancy hotel. The structure was closed throughout the 1990s, O’Neill said, until it was redeveloped by Struever in 2000.
Tom Layden, an investor, surveyed the Congress Hotel Wednesday morning. He and partners in Bergen County, N.J., are interested in bidding on the development next week, he said.
“It’s a landlords’ market,” Layden said. “Everybody is too scared to buy, so the focus now is on rental living.”
Layden said rents at the Congress are between $900 and $1,300 per month, depending on the unit size. He said he and his partners, Crimson Capital, would have to investigate property taxes and utility costs for the site before entering the bidding next week.