81 – Classic Place, 1918, Hagerstown, MD

Classic Place is the new name conferred on a venerable downtown landmark by city resolution when its new owners began the restoration project that is now under way. Situated in the National Register Hagerstown Commercial Core Historic District, and occupying the northern half of Lot 109 on the original plat of Hagerstown, this brick structure consists of three parts that were built at different times. The section facing Potomac Street was built in 1918 and contains five levels, one below grade. This structure replaced a house that had stood facing the street and joins an existing warehouse that had stood behind the house at the rear of the steeply sloped lot.

Land records show that this half lot was purchased in 1875 by the First Hagerstown Hose Company (a fire department) for $400 and was sold six years later to William Schlotterbeck for $5,000. Mr. Schlotterbeck was, according to an advertisement, …a dealer in Stoves, Ranges, Furnaces, etc., Roofing, Spouting, Plumbing, Gas fitting and Gas Fixtures a Specialty. In June 1888, Wm. M. McDowell was the …permanent trustee of the estate of Wm. Schlotterbeck an insolvent, and the land was sold to Justun Heimel for $6,050 …being the same lot of land and property which has been occupied by the said William Schlotterbeck for residence and business purposes. Probably either the Hose Company or Schlotterbeck built the brick warehouse that constitutes the middle section of the present building.

The 1893 City Directory lists Benjamin P. Schindel as working at Reichard and Schindel, a hardware store at 22 South Potomac Street. W. S. Reichard was the pastor of the German Baptist Brethren Church as well as an owner of the store. The 1905 directory lists the store’s address as 24 South Potomac Street, and John R. Schindel as working there as well as Benjamin Schindel and Reichard, who is now listed as an elder in the German Baptist Brethren Church. Reichard does not appear in the 1908 directory, and a new hardware company, Schindel, Rohrer & Co. at 24-26 South Potomac Street had been formed with Benjamin Schindel president, John Schindel vice-president-treasurer and Clarence Rohrer secretary. In 1910, these three men purchased the northern half of lot 109, the …same lot of land and property which has been occupied by said Schindel, Rohrer & Co. for business purposes. In 1918, Schindel, Rohrer & Co. built the front section of the present building.

In an era of big box construction and metal commercial buildings, the quality of construction in Classic Place and the attention to detail, which is both functional and decorative, is breathtaking. The street façade is laid in Flemish bond. The three display windows in this façade have parquet floors of oak and walnut and coffered oak ceilings. Transoms of rectilinear leaded glass continue above the two entrance doors and consist primarily of clear glass panes with touches of marbled, blue opaque glass. The walkways at the two entrances of the building are small glass bricks set in a heavy grid. This is not just a decorative touch; it also admits light into the deepest recesses of the basement below. Original light fixtures hug the ceilings above the entrances. Between the first and second floors of the façade  is a paneled copper band. A wide segmental arch with a masonry keystone dominates the second level and extends nearly the width of the building. This arch and the upper window openings have later replacement windows surrounded by glass brick.

Within, there is a vast room 80 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 20 feet high with narrow-board maple floors and a tin ceiling with deep tin cove moldings around the edges of the walls and along the tin-decorated cross beams. The floor cups gently on either side of a now absent display counter, with the deepest depressions behind the spot where the cash register once stood. The room is empty now. At the back, simple stairs lead up to a mezzanine level with a windowed office on the right and another on the left. This side was originally an open area set back from the right side and furnished with built-in cupboards with pearl beaded trim. The first fluorescent lights added to the building still hang from the ceiling, and the 1918 vault is still in the office.

The floor above displays another vast room with a tin ceiling. There are two more stories above without this decorative touch. The plans for the building by Hagerstown architect A. J. Klinkhart were found in the vault, and they call for steel I-beams and one-inch steel plate in the floors of each level to support the weight of the hardware stored there. These plans include designs for the original leaded-glass windows that once filled the second floor arch and the upper window openings.

The center block to which the Schindel, Rohrer building was added is brick, supported by massive wood beams and set on rough stone foundations. It is two stories lower than the front part of the building and has one level below the basement of the front section, giving it four floors in all. At the very back is a later one-story addition that extends from the lower basement to the alley at the rear. The lot slopes sharply allowing this addition to be at ground level in the back. There are alleys on either side of the building with sliding freight doors opening on the south and a cutaway corner door at the southeast.

Hugh Snively and Alice Duncan are the new owners of Classic Place. They have cleared out nearly all of the later structures that were added to the original building. They have added a fire escape to the rear, leading from the top floor of the building to the top of the one-story wing at the back. The roof of this section is flat with parapet walls topped by heavy tiles. Alice envisions a roof deck here. Heating had to be upgraded with the addition of seven heat pumps and a gas boiler, while retaining the original furnace as a backup. Surprisingly, the 1938 sprinkler system is up to code.

There is much left to do. Distinctive Wood Designs is manufacturing and finishing fine furniture, accessories and architectural woodwork in part of the building; and there is one other tenant; but tenants for the rest of the 40,000 square feet of space are being sought. The effort is grueling, but Alice allows herself to dream of the roof deck and of putting leaded-glass windows back in the arch of the second floor, following the original plans. It’s a wonderful dream.

Epilogue: The dream never happened. Classic Place was sold at auction and, after months of research and effort to get funding, the new buyer is giving up the building to be re-auctioned. 

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, June 30, 1996 as the 81st in the series.