How a Station North funeral home became The Parlor, a hub for local artists – Baltimore Sun


A large old house at 108 W. North Ave. has a new name and a new identity.

The place becomes a style gallery lounge for local artists who have spent the past week installing their works in this cavernous, sometimes gloomy and theatrical Victorian interior.

“The building itself is a ready-made work of art,” said curator Catherine Borg. “The works of art featured in the exhibit are brought together to acknowledge and celebrate the building’s past and future.”

Parlor owner John Renner described his vision as “an affordable creative hub for art and artists in the Station North arts district.”

After necessary heating, electrical and plumbing upgrades are complete, Renner plans to make the home a space for Baltimore’s creative community – seven studio apartments plus offices.

In the future, he’s also envisioning a speakeasy bar and restaurant with access to Graffiti Alley, otherwise known on maps as 19 1/2 Street. This little street features some of the most exuberant and changing graffiti in Baltimore.

“I’ve always loved the back streets and grew up playing on Maynadier Lane near Coldspring,” said Renner, a property developer and urban planning student who lives in Lauraville. “I was inspired to buy the building because of the alley.”

Renner paid $432,000 earlier this year for the substantial townhouse, which included the trappings of the undertaker’s art – a manual control, counterweight coffin lift, embalming room, hearse garage and corpse refrigerators. Renner named the project “the living room”, a reference to its last 108 years as a working morgue.

A set of gilded organ pipes and stained glass windows encrusted with fleur-de-lis suggest the atmosphere of mourning worthy of another era. It’s the kind of interior that could make a visitor gasp or laugh, or maybe both.

“My goal is to create an active business on Graffiti Alley and connect the positive energy of Korea Town, Old Goucher and Station North,” Renner said. “I also want to create a really affordable artist space in the heart of Station North.

“I see a future restaurateur here could take inspiration from previous use and host a Ouija Board party,” he said. “Baltimore’s weirdness deserves to be celebrated.”

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The house, designed by Baltimore architect Charles Cassell, is one of many along the street. Its oldest tenant was Samuel Hyde, a Connecticut-born farmer who came to Baltimore to grow and store corn. When he died in 1910, The Sun said his Hyde’s Egyptian Sugar Corn was famous throughout the mid-Atlantic.

It was so successful that the railroad named a Baltimore County station after it. — At Hyde’s. He could also take a Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad train a few steps away on what is now North Avenue and Howard Street to his farm fields.

When Hyde’s heirs sold the house, it ceased to be a private home and was expanded in 1914 as a funeral home. It served the Stewart and Mowen funeral directors for decades and was last operated by funeral director Ronald Taylor II.

“Baltimore is a cool, authentically cool place,” said Jack Danna of the Central Baltimore Partnership. “And Graffiti Alley builds on the DIY culture of what makes Station North a top art district.”

The salon will host an inaugural exhibition, Memento mori, (“Remember you must die”) featuring the work of Baltimore artists Amy Berbert Vu, Antonio McAfee, Bao Nguyen, Carrie Fucile and Brenton Lim, Dina Fiasconaro, Edgar Reyes, Jill Fannon, Lynn Silverman, Michele Blu, Stephen Hendee and Webster Phillips.

The exhibit will benefit the North Avenue Charity, Roberta’s House, a non-profit organization that provides care programs to support children and families grieving a natural or traumatic death.

The exhibition opens at 6:30 p.m. on November 18 and will run until December 17.


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