It’s been 50 years since Calvert Hall College followed the trend of other private city schools and left its downtown roots for a home in the suburbs. Fifty years since students descended to the basement of what was known as the “Old Hall” for lunch in the cafeteria, climbed to room 205 for detention (both for reasons of tardiness and for “discipline”) or occasionally crossed Cathedral Street for Mass in the Basilica. Fifty years since Calvert Hall student-athletes practiced football at Walbrook Oval, baseball at Herring Run Park, or cadged basketball courts at other schools around town. Fifty years since a replica of the 6-foot, 1,500-pound limestone statue of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, complete with pointed beard, ruff and cape, was moved to the new Towson campus along with faculty and students.
Calvert Hall College (CHC) has been a presence in Baltimore since 1845 when, as Cathedral School, it opened its imposing doors on Saratoga between Charles and Cathedral, becoming the first school in the United States operated by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The Gothic structure, its façade replete with stone arches, cost $10,200 to build, and the choice of Robert Cary Long Jr., Baltimore‘s first professionally trained architect, to lead the project, “indicated that Calvert Hall was going for the best,” says Tim Wollon of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.
But in a history that would inevitably repeat itself, the school, soon known as Calvert Hall College, grew quickly, enrolling 100 students in 1845 and 123 students in 1879. According to an undated CHC student handbook, Cardinal James Gibbons declared a school holiday in 1884 when enrollment reached 200, and by 1890, a nearby site had been purchased for a new building.
Under the direction of prominent Catholic architect Thomas Kennedy (who was later known for other projects, including buildings at Loyola College and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland), the Victorian “Old Hall” was built on the corner of Cathedral and Mulberry, catty-corner to the Basilica of the Assumption, and across the street from what would become the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. In 1891, the four-story school, which was topped with a pointed bell tower and a small cross, was dedicated and blessed by Cardinal Gibbons in a ceremony that included the unveiling of the Calvert sculpture.
But it wasn’t long before the student body and the resident Christian Brothers outgrew even that building, and a former Knights of Columbus building was added as an annex, thus creating a small schoolyard for intramural basketball and an area known as “the ramp.” Initially designed for school bus use, according to Jack Murtaugh, CHC Class of ’61 and recently retired CHC faculty, the ramp became the place for 1950s-era students to grab a smoke between classes.
“Most of the students back in those days smoked,” explains Murtaugh. “And it was amazing because it [the ramp] was only 20 by 30 feet and you’d see around a thousand kids there taking a quick smoke. One of the Brothers, a physics teacher, would throw buckets of water out the second-floor window because the smoke was so thick.”
The ramp wasn’t the only close space in the school. Murtaugh remembers the Old Hall as “a big, old, gray crowded building.” Classes could be large— sometimes between 40 and 45 students— and “the hallways were not real wide,” says Murtaugh. “When classes broke, you would come out one way and go down another set of steps, always in one direction.”
Attorney John Doud, CHC Class of ’58, remembers classrooms with high ceilings and big windows, and corridors lined with narrow wooden lockers that were often shared among two or three students. There were lots of steps, no air conditioning, and though there was a gym in the basement, Doud recalls, it had posts in the middle of the floor, a detriment to anyone trying to sprint downcourt to make a basket. Subsequently, all of CHC’s athletics were conducted off campus. There was also a running joke among students, says Doud, that there was “a sub-basement where the brothers had their bar,” though this speculation was never proven.
Despite the snug circumstances, Doud remembers the Old Hall fondly. “It was a pretty old-fashioned kind of building, but it was a comforting, embracing type of place. That was our home, so to speak,” he explains. “Every parish was represented and [the brothers] prepared the students very well to be competitive with students anywhere.” There was discipline, of course, but it was “very orderly,” Doud says. “All they [the brothers] had to do was look your way and you were back in line.”
Citing reasons of overcrowding yet again, Calvert Hall College moved to its current residence in Towson in the fall of 1960. In October of this year, Doud and the Class of 1958 will mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Old Hall with a Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption and the mounting of a commemorative plaque on the south wall of the front portico of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic Center, the building that replaced the Old Hall after its demolition in the summer of 1961.
Wollon spent that summer working for the architectural firm Wrenn, Lewis and Jencks just a few doors down from the Old Hall. “I don’t recall that anyone mourned its demolition,” he recalls. “Victorian buildings were not in great favor then. Now we can regard it as an excellent example of the period, by a very talented architect.”
Even now, however, the Old Hall continues to survive outside the realm of memory. Some of the building’s stones were used in the façade of Maryland Hall on the Loyola University campus.