Baltimore City Passenger Railway Power House and Car Barn
1711-1717, Charles St., N., Baltimore, Baltimore City
The Baltimore City Passenger Railway Power House and Car Barn, constructed in 1892, is a two-story brick Romanesque revival style building that has been altered for a variety of uses over the years. The organization of the rectangular building, which faces west onto N. Charles Street, reflects its two original functions. The southern half of the building (now the Charles Theater) was used for the power house; the northern half (formerly the Famous Ballroom and a bowling alley), was used for the car barn. The building is presently being rehabilitated. Prior to this, the first floor of the building had been altered by recent storefronts in a manner typical of commercial buildings. Original arched openings remain behind the exterior cladding that presently obscures the second floor of the power house. The building thus retains the strong rhythm created by the arched openings of its original fenestration pattern. The interior of the building, which was originally unembellished open plan space typical of industrial uses, still retains its brick walls and corbeled cornice. Even in its present altered condition, the building retains sufficient integrity to convey the Rundbogenstil inspired architectural image employed by the Baltimore City Passenger Railway Company at the end of the 19th century.
The Baltimore City Passenger Railway Power House and Car Barn, built in 1892, is historically significant for its association with the development of Baltimore’s streetcar system. Constructed by Baltimore’s oldest streetcar company to provide cable traction on one of its first and most important lines, the building marks the technological and political struggle to develop a mechanical alternative to horse-powered cars in a competitive marketplace. Occupying a critical location at the confluence of several major arterial routes, the Baltimore City Passenger Railway Power House and Car Barn is an important artifact of the competitive struggles that preceded consolidation of the street railway system into United Railways in 1899. The car barn was the node where the Baltimore & Northern Railway transferred its streetcars to City Passenger tracks. The North Charles Street structure provided the foothold for Baltimore & Northern’s surprising triumph in achieving a monopoly on Baltimore’s trolley services as United Passenger Railways. In 1939 United Railways sold the structure. It was then converted into a movie theater, bowling alley, and ballroom. Although the façade has been altered, the building still retains sufficient architectural fabric to convey its original identity.