Former fried chicken joint may soon serve Macbeth and Equus

Station North and The Annex Theater to transform New York Fried Chicken into office, theatre and gallery space

ny fried moritz and stone

Evan Moritz, of The Annex Theatre, and Ben Stone, of Station North, describe their vision for the transformation of the onetime fried chicken restaurant.

Photo by: Fern Shen

The deep-fat fryers haven’t sizzled for years at the corner of North Avenue and Charles Street, but something is cooking in the building where New York Fried Chicken (and before that, a White Tower restaurant) once operated.

The City of Baltimore is leasing the former greasy-spoon storefront to Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc. and the Baltimore Annex Theater.

If the project gets the renovation funding it needs through grants and a recently-launched Kickstarter campaign, organizers say that a power-hungry Scottish King and a boy obsessed with horses could soon be among the theatrical characters performing where short-order cooks once produced three-piece wing-and-thigh specials.

“Equus I think we’ll stage right there,” the Annex’s artistic director Evan Moritz said yesterday, pointing past a plastic menu sign showing the prices for “Lake Trout Fish,” “Shrimps,” “Sweet Potato Pie” and other items. “The stage will project out like a knife.”

For the past decade, attention has focused on the idea of redeveloping a larger, more highbrow building next door – the ornate-but-crumbling Parkway Theatre, also owned by the city. But caught in the cycle of government deal-making and deal-breaking, the Parkway project has been stalled for years.

Now Station North is looking at the humbler structure next door, New York Fried that’s been closed since 2009, to give this key corner a quick lift.

“Like all development projects [the Parkway] is going to take a while,” said Ben Stone, Station North’s executive director. “I proposed we do something in the interim to activate this intersection. . . I was frustrated.”

They negotiated a one-year, one-dollar lease for the New York Fried building at 1 West North Avenue, with an option to renew for another year.

Short-term Lease, Long-term Plan

For Station North, the non-profit which oversees Baltimore’s flagship arts district north of Penn Station and south of 20th Street, the location would serve as their office and a kind of visitors’ center.

“People coming up from Washington to check out Station North might look around on a day like today and wonder ‘Where is it?’” he said, noting that the building could have information or a calendar or brochures available after hours.

Keeping with the fowl theme, street artist Gaia put a carrier pigeon on the exterior of the New York Fried building, part of Station North's Open Walls project. The Parkway Theatre is at right. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Street artist Gaia put a carrier pigeon image on the exterior of the New York Fried Chicken building, part of Station North’s Open Walls mural project. The Parkway Theatre is at right. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Stone said his group would occupy a couple of desks in the back, where the walk-in freezer is currently located. Moritz said the Annex would use the renovated front room for performances, the first one being Equus, opening on January 31.

When the space isn’t needed for Annex performances, Stone said, it would be used as a gallery for exhibitions, including one to be put on this spring by Maryland Institute College of Art.

What about The Parkway?

For the last year, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) has been mulling over proposals to develop the century-old Parkway, along with the New York Fried building and the nearby – and extremely dilapidated – 1820 N. Charles St. property. (Yesterday, daylight could be seen through open upper-story windows of this city-owned property. Small trees sprout from the ornate stone masonry.)

Stone said the BDC will announce “very soon” which of three latest proposals they have chosen.

One is by the Maryland Film Festival/Cross Street Partners (Jed Dietz) “to house a year-round film, digital-video and live-music center in fully renovated and restored theater buildings.” The Film Festival is coordinating its plans with Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Another proposal is by Property Consulting, Inc. (Samuel Polakoff) and Toby Blumenthal in which The Parkway would be renovated for live entertainment.

A third is by Kevin Brown, Gregg Mason and David Sawyer would include a stage, a restaurant, a wellness center, offices and third-floor residential units.

Keeping it Simple

Stone said their year-to-year lease and minimal renovations – they don’t plan, for example, to fully restore the tin tiles they found under the drop-ceiling – won’t hinder the larger Parkway project, whenever it moves forward.

“When it’s time for us to leave, we’ll just leave,” he said.

One proposal for preserving the NY Fried menu sign is to use the food photos as panels on light fixtures. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Yesterday, Stone and Moritz showed a visitor around the place, where a walk-in freezer, dirty metal sink and stove hood still need to be removed.

Protruding up from the grimy floor is a pipe leading to the grease trap, where fried fat odor still emanates. Capping it, cleaning and painting the floor, redoing electrical, building new walls, making the bathroom meet ADA standards  – all are on their punch list.

Stone says they need at least $25,000 which they plan to raise without using public funds. In addition to their $10,000 crowd-sourced campaign, they hope to get funding from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and  ArtPlace America, he said.

The outside of the N.Y. Fried building is a riot of graffiti, street art, fliers and notices. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The outside of the N.Y. Fried building is a riot of graffiti, street art, fliers and notices. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Amid the gutting, some old restaurant features will remain. The tin ceiling will be secured but left alone. The 12-panel plastic sign with menu items and prices, Stone said, is going to stay.

Also remaining will be some remnants of the graffiti  – in particular, “KEEP GOIN TILL I DIE” – that has proliferated on the windows, making the place a kind of vibrant street canvas already.

Promising but Vacant Space

Yesterday, several people stuck their heads in the door, asking if the place was open or if a development project has been chosen.

“That happens every time I’m in here. There’s huge interest in this space,” Stone said.

It’s easy to see why. The shuttered New York Fried is at the center of the city’s first arts district, a lively area where artists’ studios, theater companies, restaurants and bars like Joe Squared Pizza and Liam Flynn’s Ale House exist amid gritty blocks of vacant buildings and trash-strewn lots. It’s also a busy spot for bus commuters transferring between north-south and east-west routes.

Yesterday a man chatted on a cellphone in the sun as he sat in one of the bright-red metal chairs outside the former Morgan Millwork building on North Avenue, now MICA’s Studio Center. In the median, a woman was holding a sign saying, “Pregnant need help.”

In an effort to liven up one of those empty spaces, Stone said, Station North has been negotiating with the owner of the empty lot on the northwest corner of North Ave. and Charles, to see if he will lease it for use as event space or just permission to put plantings there.

Load of Fun Update

Earlier this year, a new building was added to the district’s list of troubled addresses when the Load of Fun Building (20 West North Avenue) was hit by code violations (lack of sprinklers, electrical issues), leading the owner to ask some 40 artists and arts groups, including the Single Carrot Theatre, to leave so he could make repairs.

A $100,000 grant for repairs is being sought from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Stone said that funding has been secured and that the owner is working with the city to determine what work needs to be done to re-open.

Station North’s desire to get something going dovetailed with The Annex’s desire to get a space that’s more permanent and visible.

Migratory Quarters

Moritz said the five-year-old theater company has been staging short-run productions in out-of-the-way warehouse spaces like the H & H Building and that the audience appetite for such shows is lately ebbing.

“We’d do a show in a 12,000-square-foot space and on a good night get 100 people,” Moritz said. “We figured this way we’ll have a longer run in a smaller place with a more intimate feel. We wanted a bigger season.”

If displacement and transition are the leitmotif in Station North these days, it’s a theme Stone knows from experience. After MICA renovated the  Morgan Building they had to leave their office space and have been in less-than-optimum space  in the Walbert Building.

“They let us stay there as long as they could,” Stone said with a grin, “and then 15 or 16 months ago, they kicked us out.”

In the median outside the Load of Fun Building, a sculpture and a woman asking for spare change. (Photo by Fern Shen)

In the median outside Load of Fun yesterday, a sculpture and a woman asking for spare change. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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  • cwals99

    I recognize MICA’s attachment to the neighborhoods surrounding the North Ave and Howard street corridors and applaud the slow revitalization of the Station North Arts District.  We love seeing the Penn Station area becoming a welcoming step for those arriving to Baltimore by train.  We want to give a shout and a reminder that whether Hopkins or Hopkins affiliate MICA……there is a whole lot of Hopkins going on in the city development.  I dare say even MICA and Peabody would agree.  What this says is that this elite institution has too large a hold on these art projects as well.

    We have read in the alternative media some who decry what is the absence of local artists in areas that are long working-class and poor.  MICA and Hopkins may be the anchor institutions with the connections to push development, but it is there job to mentor and develop leaders in existing communities to come forward with their own artistic mark and then these institutions need to retreat to the role of community support.

    The idea that these anchors will become the community is not a egalitarian goal and as such does not reflect a democratic nature.  Democracies float all boats, giving voice to all cultures.  Do we need more Equus in Baltimore arts community?  I dare say, as an animal rights person we can do with less chicken outlets!  

  • ushanellore

    This itinerant theater group deserves a permanent place.  There is no heart for art in an economy gone sour and that is tragic.   I like their resilience, though, and their persistence.  They see opportunity in decay and dilapidation.  Bravo!  Equus?  Bring it on!  Let’s sing a dirge to the fried chicken place and let it stay buried for ever.  

  • BmoreFree

    I really hope they got a lawyer to look at the lease. I would hate to see them do renovations then be tossed out by the city when someone with deep pockets comes along.

  • davethesuave

    one theater (theatre?) group leaves, another one springs up.  it seems that station north has a pulse that cannot be stopped.  good news.

  • TomKiefaber

    The mysterious, yet brilliant and well informed, cwalls99 for Mayor!  

  • bmorerealistic

    Station North Inc. has access to more funding than anyone in that neighborhood already.  Is using kickstarter to raise money supposed to make the public happy?  Station North Inc. is now creating competition for funding in Station North on the internet using tools designed for groups that truly do not have access to big funding.  Best of luck to Annex Theater, they seem sincere in their endeavors. 

  • Jilly_S

    Heeee’s back.  Baltimore’s resident narcissist Tom Kiefibber is lashing out at anyone and everyone around him, flailing for attention now that he lost his personal playground, The Senator, due to his business failures and abrasive ego.

  • Jilly_S

    Isn’t it time you looked for a job Tom?  It’s been almost 3 years.

  • Rocky_Ground

     It’s a mystery why you attack the Brew. And why the cheap shot against Fern? Please, clean up your comments. The Brew is doing a hell of a great job bringing news to Baltimore. They are digging intently into the murky areas of the BDC and the city’s development world. Your barbs are entirely misplaced. IMO.

    • TomKiefaber

      Rocky_Groung It’s simply not the case that “The Brew is doing a hell of a great job bringing news to Baltimore. They are digging intently into the murky areas of the BDC and the city’s development world.” They are not digging intently, but rather skimming the over a slimy surface,particularly when the corrupt trails lead to places they would rather not tread.  While I encourage them to continue what they do, we were promised more positive growth by now. I put considerable personal effort into promoting The Brew’s fundraising event, despite struggles of my own. It may not be The Brew that further develops to fill this void, but as Dr. John sang, if they don’t do it, somebody else will.   

  • Gordon Steen

    Great that these guys are moving Station North forward. The developers have been slow to take it to the next level. It has always amazed me that landlords won’t fill a space until they squeeze every last penny out of a property, letting it stay vacant for years, waiting for the big bucks. North Ave is Bmore’s greatest opportunity to present itself as being a creative and innovative city.

  • TomKiefaber

    Fair responses to my post (except from the troll). I forwarded my post from FB, taking Fern to task for throwing more cheerleading bloggy attention on a fluff piece like this, a pleasant, hopeful a read, with color photos! It’s admittedly fine for what it is. A story you won’t read (yet) in The Brew investigates the BDC’s horrific bungling, brutal condemnation-happy reign of terror for more than a decade in Station North, filling pockets, ruining lives and livelihoods, but not filling storefronts or the buildings they had vacated.  

    Fern can take it. She generally ignores submissions of mine that tweak Robert Embry/Abell to such a degree. This time she relented I suppose, frankly to my surprise, and to clarify, I have nothing but praise for the intrepid subjects founding “The Whatever Works” in that space. I was raised in a milieu where above all, the show must go on. 

    The Brew has it’s poofy niche, yet when I read some of Reutter’s terrific investigative journalism, I can’t help but wish to see those skills applied to this festering sore, which are the machinations taking place behind the scenes in and around the city’s BDC top down, real-estate-developer-trade-association- designated “Artist’s Village”.  

  • Jilly_S

    Tom, your condescending, holier-than-thou lectures and conspiracy theories might have a shred of credibility had YOU not been in bed with the Baltimore Development Corporation for years. . .  

    Your rants aren’t about some crusade against the BDC or reporters– it’s always been about you.  You have no credibility.  Get over your selfish, mid-life crisis.

    • baltimorebrew

      From Brew: Enough. This comment thread isn’t going to devote more space to rehashing old history or to personal attacks. Jilly and Tom, let’s move on.

  • ushanellore

    What acrimony!  The problem has been the BDC’s non inclusive closed door policies and the nexus between the BDC and city politicians.  The BDC’s closed door policies have been repeatedly exposed by the BREW.  The shenanigans of the city pols have been discussed, dissected and detailed, time and time again.  The BREW is very alert to the corruptions and capers of the corporate and political sectors.  It realizes that most venality starts locally.  It has never coddled the BDC, nor has it pampered builders, developers and their friends.  But fair journalists do not pursue aggressive vendettas, even against the corrupt.  A technique that is balanced and works best is a persistent presence where the corruptions are hatched, a humorous, not a strident pursuit, of smugly unethical folks and a tenacious exposure of behind the scenes power plays and back room deals as conducted by the top dogs of Baltimore.  The BREW has no personal ax to grind with the BDC–I should hope not.  The BDC is merely one of the many cloak and dagger shadowy quasi govt organizations the BREW must tackle.  The BREW cannot afford to be consumed by the BDC–I wouldn’t want it to be and I am sure many other readers would agree with me.  Skulduggery is multifaceted and does not have to figure in every article for the article to inform and enlighten.  The way I see the above article–it is not an investigative piece about the competitive influences and undercurrents at North Avenue and Charles.  It is simply a straightforward informative piece about some of the more obvious players and such an article too has its own value without it being dubbed as mere fluff.     

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