The Frederick Board of Aldermen will decide this week whether a 1930s-era house is historically significant enough to stop developers from leveling it to make way for senior housing.
The one-story house at 401 Linden Ave., known as the Cramer House, has been at the center of discussion for months. Developers with Herman & Kittle Properties submitted plans to demolish the house to construct an 84-unit building with one- and two-bedroom apartments for seniors on the property. The property is on the west side of the city off the Golden Mile stretch of U.S. 40.
The plans hit a snag in the spring when members of the Historic Preservation Commission voted to pursue a historic preservation overlay on the house and surrounding .295-acre property, which would save it from demolition. The city’s Planning Commission followed with a positive recommendation to the Board of Aldermen to grant the overlay, and the elected officials will make the final decision at a public hearing on Thursday.
Loads of information arguing both for and against the designation have poured in from Historic Preservation Planner Christina Martinkosky and Anne Rollins, an attorney representing the developer, via home co-owner Brent Cramer, since the demolition request came in on April 9. For every point made to pursue the designation, Rollins came back with more research to contradict it from Cramer, and vice versa.
Rollins said at a Board of Aldermen workshop on July 18 that Cramer, who lives in Texas, may attend the hearing on Thursday to present his latest findings. She submitted a summary of those points in a July 23 report in response to requests from the aldermen.
“Historic preservation is an economic driver. If we don’t preserve our history, we become Any Town, USA. I’m not saying it about this property specifically, just about properties in Frederick,” Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said at the workshop. “If things come in from the property owner that negates information from staff, I want to make sure staff has plenty of time [to respond]. ... We have to make the final decision, so I want to make sure we have all of the information.”
Staff members recommended a historic designation for the property due to its roots and the possibility that it was used as a “cure cottage” for the owner, Helen C. Cramer, who they believe had tuberculosis. Popular in the early 20th century, cure cottages were built to accommodate patients who had tuberculosis. The houses were built with access to fresh air and sunshine — said to help treat the illness — via large porches known as “cure porches.” Staff members also argued that the house still possesses many of its original features, including location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
The research shows that Ammon Cramer, Helen Cramer’s husband, received a permit to build the one-story frame house in 1936 for $5,500. Helen Cramer had reportedly been sick for months and the land with “high elevation with access to clean air, space and sunlight” advertised in the Linden Hills subdivision was ideal for her recovery.
Research also shows that the Cramer House was likely a prefabricated E.F. Hodgson Company house. The homes were relatively rare for the time period compared with other types of prefab homes, and the company was known to construct cure cottages, according to the information.
Further information submitted after the workshop argues that the home could be designation-eligible based on Ammon Cramer’s significance to the city’s past as “a noted businessman and restaurateur,” among other details.
Martinkosky has said much of the information she presented came from Helen Cramer’s blood grandson, Jody Koogle. Brent Cramer, she said, is the grandson of Ammon Cramer’s third wife and has no blood relation to Helen Cramer.
The research from Brent Cramer, who Rollins said is a historian himself, told a very different story, highlighting things including the house’s mediocrity and dilapidated state as reasons it would not qualify for designation.
The home has been vacant since 2004 and is in disrepair, which takes away its historic integrity. Renovating or restoring the elements would also be costly and likely not something the developers would want to or be able to fund, according to the information.
The research also showed that the house’s use as a cure cottage is not likely, in part because the alleged cure porch was added in later years. Cramer also found evidence that Helen Cramer did not die after a long illness, and thus the house was likely not built to accommodate her tuberculosis diagnosis. His research also contains a great deal of information negating staff members’ claim that E.F. Hodgson Company homes were rare and built as cure cottages, among other details.
With all of the information, the aldermen must decide which argument is more compelling. At the July 18 workshop, they kept their thoughts close to the vest, with no indication of how the vote may come out.