BNHA Takes Stewardship Role in Future of Mencken House Mencken House FAQ
Who was H.L. Mencken?
Henry Louis Mencken was a journalist, literary critic, magazine editor, authority on American linguistics, amateur musician, and essayist. Nicknamed the “Sage of Baltimore,” Mencken gained national fame as a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.
Where is the Mencken House?
Mencken lived most of his life at 1524 Hollins Street, a three-story rowhouse facing Union Square. The house was built around 1880; Menken’s family moved into the home in 1883. The house was designated as a Baltimore City Landmark in 1975. In 1983, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
What does landmark designation mean?
National historic landmarks are historic places that hold national significance. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior makes the designations through the National Park Service. The federal designation is primarily honorary.
Local landmark designations fall to individual, historically significant structures that provide a connection to Baltimore’s past. Mencken’s house is chiefly significant due to its association with Mencken’s life and work. Architecturally, the house is significant as a relatively unaltered example of the typical brick-front, marble-trimmed three-story rowhouse for which Baltimore is famous. It is also part of an unbroken row facing Union Square, one of the few 19th-century residential squares still retaining its original character.
Who owns the house?
The City of Baltimore owns the house, which operated as part of Baltimore’s City Life Museums. The museum closed in 1997, and the house has sat vacant for over two decades. In September 2018, the Baltimore National Heritage Area entered into a lease agreement with the City of Baltimore. Under the agreement, BNHA will manage the restoration of the house and oversee the development of interpretative and educational programming. BNHA will move its offices to the house once the renovations are complete.
Is the City of Baltimore paying for the restoration of the house?
No city funding will be used. Funds for renovation, ongoing maintenance, and interpretation will be provided by the estate of Max Hency. Hency, a U.S. Navy commander, died in 2005. In his will, he made a $3 million bequest to Baltimore City for the purpose of restoring the house and re-opening it as a museum dedicated to Mencken’s life.
Will the house be open to the public as a museum?
BNHA will work with Mencken legacy groups to ensure that the house will be open to the public. At this time, hours of operation have not been finalized. Current plans call for rooms on the first and second floors to serve as museum space.
Will the museum address controversial aspects of Mencken’s legacy?
Mencken’s diaries (published in 1989 -- 33 years after his death) contained many disparaging views of African Americans and Jewish persons. BNHA will work with interpretative experts and scholars to identify methods to best place Mencken’s works and views in a contemporary context.
When will the house re-open?
Although there are no certainties with renovations and construction, the goal is to re-open the house by September 12, 2019 (Mencken’s 139th birthday).
What is the Baltimore National Heritage Area?
BNHA is a federally designated national heritage area as well as a state-certified Maryland heritage area. Heritage areas are places that through architecture, historic places, and landscapes tell a significant story of national history. BNHA develops heritage tourism products and programs (brochures and maps, guided walking tours, websites, etc.). BNHA is also a grant-making organization; the heritage area administers the city’s small capital grant program and provides non-capital funding through its Heritage Investment Grant program. The non-profit Baltimore Heritage Area Association, Inc. manages the heritage area.