Historic Structures

Garret-Jacobs Mansion Baltimore Maryland

Date added: August 10, 2017 Categories: Maryland House Mansion

This building, Baltimore's largest and most costly mansion, was built in two stages. Robert Garrett, prominent financier and businessman, built the first part in I884, designed by McKim, Mead and White. His widow, who married Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs, added the second part c. 1905, designed by John Russell Pope, and e. 1916 acquired an adjoining property, demolishing a portion of the building thereon.

The Garrett-Jacobs House is Baltimore's most ambitious example of a great mansion of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other comparable buildings, such as the Ross Winans House, may be superior for integrated design or architectural detail, but none existing is on an equally ample, imposing, and costly scale. It stands in what once was the most fashionable part of Baltimore, on a lot stretching 92 feet along West Mount Vernon Place (Nos. 7-11) and 160 feet deep. The adjoining house, No. 13, is also part of the property and this lot has a 27 foot frontage and a depth of 160 feet.

Creation of the present house was begun by Robert Garrett in I884. He had resided on the site, at No. 11 West Mount Vernon Place (No. 71 old style), for about ten years before he ordered its demolition to begin the new structure. This noted capitalist was born April 9, 1847, the eldest son of Robert Work Garrett and Rachel Harrison Garrett, and succeeded his father as President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1884. He was also head of the banking house of Robert Garrett & Sons and had other extensive business interests of national prominence.

This was a man of artistic, if grandiose, tastes. He took part In the beautification of Baltimore, presenting fountains for East and West Mount Vernon Place and commissioning the bronze reproduction of the London statue of George Peabody whieh stands outside the Peabody Institute. He also commenced the acquisition of a large art collection which was later given to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Robert Garrett suffered a mental collapse in 1887 and thereafter lived in retirement under the care of his personal physician, Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs. His Baltimore residence was accordingly very largely the creation of his wife, who shared his tastes and for many years carried on the decoration, extension, and aggrandisement of the house and its collections.

Mrs. Garrett was a daughter of William F. Frick, a successful Baltimore lawyer. She became an arbiter of society, playing a leading role with Edwardian grandeur and in accordance with a code of rigorously exclusive and formal requirements. The nation's press referred to her in such terms as "the Mrs. Astor of Baltimore"; her entertainments were on a lavish scale and when she traveled it was in the utmost luxury.

In addition to the town house, Mrs. Garrett had other properties, notably "uplands" in Baltimore County—the Frick family estate—and "Wniteholme" at Ochre Point, Newport, Rhode Island. John Hussell Pope became in time a kind of "court architect" to Mrs. Garrett and her circle: He designed part of the Mount Vernon Place house, built "Whiteholme," and provided her brother, J. Swan Frick, with one of Baltimore's finest houses.

Social doings, however, did not entirely occupy Mrs. Garrett's attention. She was well-kaown for her charities, particularly her interest in children (the Garretts were childless), the provision of children's hospitals, care for the aged, and contributions to the Episcopal Church, Among the many elaborate entertainments of her Baltimore home, some of the most celebrated and well-remembered were her annual Christmas parties for the city's messenger boys.

Robert Garrett died in 1896 and in 1902 his widow married Dr. Jacobs. Her death took place October 20, 1936, and Dr. Jacobs, the last private resident, died in the smoking room of the house three years later.

Following this, the house and most of its contents were sold at auction. 1940 was a bad year for dispositions of this kind. The building went to William Cook, undertaker, for $36,000, and its furnishings, which were reported to have cost upwards of a million and a half, netted only $77,675. This figure, however, is exclusive of the value of the art collection already given to the city.

Zoning ordinances prevented the use of the house as a funeral parlor, and the next occupant was the British Merchant Navy Club, which from early in 1941 made use of the basement, where it installed a gymnasium and showers. Later the same year Cook sold the building to the Boumi Temple Shriners for $55,000. It was operated as a headquarters for the Shriners until its sale to the City of Baltimore for $155,000 in 1958.

A partial idea of the cost of running this establishment is given by the fact that in 1941 City taxes amounted to $4,577.96 and State taxes took another $369.45. In 1940 the annual cost of heating was estimated at $1,680, based on the consumption of 280 tons of coal per year.

A great deal of money was expended on this house, not only in the original construction, the purchase of adjoining properties, and the constant acquisition of furnishings, but also in the continual desire for alterations and additions, which apparently possessed both Robert Garrett and his widow.