When a Baltimore developer proposed to tear down Read’s Drugstore, the site of a 1955 civil rights sit-in, preservation advocates rallied, partnering with a diverse array of community members in the process. Civil rights leaders, residents, union members, and middle schoolers joined protests against demolishing the building, where students won African Americans the right to be served at the store’s lunch counter and defined a model for later sit-ins.

It’s a cool mobilization around a historic building, despite the demolition threat. Protests and community meetings have unearthed this quiet piece of Baltimore’s history and brought it out as a point of local pride. The sit-in has been mentioned on radio talk shows, and a forum at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture explored its implications in the context of Baltimore’s civil rights heritage.

In mid-March, Lexington Square Partners LLC agreed to retain two exterior walls of the drugstore. The development would still partially or completely demolish 14 of the 17 older buildings on the block to make room for the mixed-use development, which is proposed to help revitalize the West End neighborhood with a significant amount of retail and office space, residential units, a hotel, and a parking garage.

The battle’s not over yet, though: the design still must be approved by the city’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, and two City Council members are calling for an informal public hearing on the project. More details on the development plan and building history here, here, and here.

Now, to figure out how to get people excited about important historic buildings without the threat of demolition…

[Photo: Read’s Drugstore in 1963, courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry]

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