Artists with studios in the Post Office Garage building at 439 E. Preston St. were evicted by the city today after a pipe burst inside the building last night.
The artists at the Post Office were told this morning that they had until just 5 p.m. today to remove their possessions, and a notice was plastered on the wall stated that the building was to be condemned.
As it began to hail this afternoon, artist James Bouché scrambled to carry his canvases along the sidewalks, which had completely iced over from the spill, into a car.
The pipe began pouring water onto the floor that then flowed out the door and down the sidewalk, says Joe Clancy, who has maintained a woodworking studio in the building for 8 years. There was no way to shut off the water.
Clancy says it’s been incredibly hectic trying to move everything out in such a short time.
“They gave us five hours. Like, ‘here’s five hours, move all of your creative endeavors,’” he says. “I have 22,000 pounds of equipment in the shop. And I have stuff that won’t fit out the door.”
Inside, the water on the floor had frozen, leaving swaths of ice around the space.
Multimedia artist Paul Taylor left the building last November after working there for five years, but was there today. He says that after the owner of the building, Mike Stallings, died, the building hasn’t been as closely tended.
“If today had happened while he was around, he would’ve been here,” says Clancy. “He was the kind of guy who, you knew he was gonna help you out, and you knew he wanted people in the building like this. . . . He was working towards fixing the problems in the building, no question about it.”
Clancy knew about issues with the building, and had it checked out independently, and brought the issues to the attention of the current landlord, Stallings’ wife, Jill Stallings.
After shutting off the water, the fire marshal issued citations to the building for not having an occupancy permit, as well as for a large crack in the front of the building. When the Beat called the fire department for more information, we were directed to call housing, who did not answer.
In 2016, the Baltimore Brew reported on the structural problems of the building and nearby 428. E. Preston St.—the building’s damage included exterior problems, floor sloping, and water flooding the basement—and suggested it may have to do with “sewer outfall, another utility pipe, unstable fill or a combination of issues.” The building was “deemed safe” by the Maryland Department of General Services, the Brew reported back then.
The Post Office Garage building is near the Station North area—the location of the Bell Foundry, whose artist-tenants were evicted in Dec. 2016 and the building condemned following the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. The Bell eviction led to a mayoral “Safe Arts Space” task force that affected many DIY spots in the area such as the Annex and the Copycat. While the task force resolved not to evict more spaces, safety issues with the Post Office Garage were determined to be dangerous enough to merit. Under an executive order signed by Pugh on April 4, city officials were directed to allow art spaces with code violations to stay open so long as the conditions “do not represent an imminent threat to life or safety.”
Still, there are echoes of the cruel, efficient eviction of the Bell Foundry: artists kicked out right away in winter and given just a few hours to remove all of their possessions including art, materials, and equipment.
Unlike the Bell Foundry and other arts spaces, the Post Office was only used as a working space and not a living space as well—there were occasionally open studio events there where visitors could view illustrations, paintings, sculpture, prints, woodwork, furniture, and more from the artists using the space.
As the five o’clock deadline rapidly approached, Clancy acknowledges there simply won’t be time to collect everything.
“[The tenants] are donating stuff to Open Works, they’re just getting stuff out any way they possibly can,” he says, adding he has “no idea” whether he will be allowed to come back for the rest of his stuff.
“I’ve never been able to get an answer from people about that,” he says.
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, Amy Bonitz, chair of the codes and regulations work group of the Safe Arts Space Task Force and and president of Barco said that the tenants would be given two days to retrieve their belongings.
Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg.