Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects helped renovate Brown Memorial Park Avenue and Roland Park Presbyterian churches while keeping their historic look and feel.

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Churches hold special meanings for their congregations. They are where life’s important moments occur: baptisms, weddings, funerals. They serve as focal points for communities. 

Baltimore’s Brown Memorial Park Avenue and Roland Park Presbyterian churches also contain significant history, serving their congregants and communities since 1870 and 1902, respectively. 

Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects was tasked with updating these structures for the 21st century, while keeping their historic look and feel. 

“Early on, we identified what makes these buildings historically significant – the exterior, the layout, the materials used in the buildings – and committed to preserving these features,” says M&D Project Architect Lauren Myatt. “Then, we took other opportunities to modernize the buildings.” 

Making all feel welcome  

M&D’s Kevin Stick served as the Construction Administrator on both projects, translating the architectural drawings to actual onsite work. 

“There was a real need for upgrades to meet accessibility and safety requirements and other codes,” he says. 

No work was needed on either sanctuary, where worship services take place. Significant improvements were made to most other areas though, to improve the experience of both congregants and community members. 

At Roland Park, the building layout was limiting. 

“There were no handicapped accessibility provisions from the main level to the upper and lower floors, limiting their uses,” Myatt says. “These spaces need to be welcoming for everyone to join in all activities.” 

The firm also had to make sure the landing and run widths were right, and in some cases had to reconfigure landings coming off ramps, so wheelchairs can turn. 

Houses of worship and much more 

At Brown Memorial, a large area on the first floor is used for informal gatherings.  

“This area has a kitchen, which we renovated by installing stainless steel counter tops and new appliances,” says Stick, who notes removing plaster and exposing a brick chimney added to the historic nature.  

Brown Memorial’s third floor has served Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood with a tutoring center for elementary students for about 50 years. 

“We incorporated eight tutoring rooms around a central staff work area, and have an open gathering/library space,” Stick notes.  

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Brown Memorial’s restrooms were renovated, providing a better experience for everyone. 

Roland Park is used by neighborhood groups, including men’s and women’s leagues and scouts. 

“The main entry was on the side and not easily identifiable,” Myatt says. “We replaced heavy wooden doors with glass doors, so folks knew where to enter, and could see activities happening inside.” 

They also took out existing walls for a better open feel, visibility, and turned small less useable spaces into larger, gathering rooms. Before renovations, people sometimes needed to go through existing rooms to get from one area to another, disrupting activities. 

“We also updated offices to give everyone appropriate workspace — the pastor, church office manager, bookkeeper, Christian educators,” Myatt says. 

The choir room moved from a dingy basement location to right off the sanctuary, with a mini-stage. 

 

Roland Park Presbyterian Church

Preserving historic look 

Brown Memorial is recognized as an historic building by the Maryland Historic Trust, requiring special attention to renovations. 

“We replaced the windows to improve energy efficiency but did so using wooden casings that are historically appropriate for the neighborhood,” Myatt says.  

The stone on Brown Memorial’s tower needed repointed, and the firm selected colors to match existing exterior stonework. 

New accessibility ramps at Roland Park are lined with stone complementing existing stone on the building and other neighborhood structures. 

“We kept both churches’ beautiful stained-glass windows, then selected materials and colors to go with these, as well as other historic elements of the buildings, such as wooden beams and trusses,” says Myatt, adding materials for flooring, painting, and interior glass walls were chosen to fit with the historic elements. 

 

Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church

Churches are special spaces 

People have unique interactions with every building they occupy, but churches are special. 

“There is definitely a different set of rules working with churches, and a sensitivity comes with that,” Myatt says.  

These buildings are a symbol of sanctuary.  

“People come to churches to feel something greater than in their other day-to-day activities,” she says. “Not just as an individual but also in fellowship with others seeking the same thing.”  


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