Vickers Building

One of the largest to utilize brick as a primary structural and facing material following the devastating Great Fire of 1904, the Vickers Building is a rare surviving example of the commercial blocks constructed in the city’s Central Business District in the first years of the twentieth century. The interior of Werner’s Restaurant, an occupant of the building since 1951, is remarkably intact example of late Moderne lunch counter.

East Redwood Street, between Calvert and South Streets, was known until 1918 as German Street (for the preponderance of German-owned businesses in the area) and rests at the core of Baltimore's early 19th-century commercial district. This core, which centers on the intersection of Calvert and Baltimore Streets, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Baltimore Financial District, encompassing 16 city blocks and including 145 contributing structures, of which the Vickers is one.

The present structure replaced a previous Vickers Building in the Second Empire style that was destroyed during the Great Fire of 7-8 February 1904. While most post-Fire buildings in the district were built of stone, the Vickers building is one of the largest to utilize brick as a primary structural and facing material. Typical of post-Fire commercial design in Baltimore, the Vickers Building eschews the Mansard roof and ornamental complexity of the Second Empire style in favor of a more restrained and visually cohesive massing, emphatic symmetry, a flat roof and limited application of classical ornament that was often concentrated at the cornice level. This abrupt change in the district’s architectural character, as exemplified by the comparison of the pre- and post-Fire Vickers buildings, is generally attributed to cultural factors such as the rise of Beaux-Arts Classicism in American design following the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago of 1893.

Pragmatism also played a role in defining the district’s post-Fire character: first, the need to rebuild quickly mitigated against complex massing that was time-consuming to construct; second, the shift toward masonry as a fire deterrent material favored simpler masses for reasons of cost; and, third, the structure and attic space inherent in Mansard roofs was believed to have contributed to the spread of the fire. There were also rhetorical reasons for the shift, such as an institutional desire to portray stability after the 1904 Fire—a desire that favored the associative value of classicizing architectural idioms as symbols of permanence.

The permit for the present structure was issued on 19 May 1904, indicating that Vickers lost no time in commissioning a replacement structure for the building that had been destroyed by fire. Built to house retail establishments at the ground level with rental office space above, the Vickers Building has retained its intended use into the 21st century.