H. L. Mencken House Re-opens After a 22 Year Hiatus

Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, Inc.
1524 Hollins Street
Baltimore, MD 21223

Contact: Brigitte V. Fessenden


H.L. Mencken House and Museum re-opens
to the public after a 22 year hiatus

November 24, 2019 (Baltimore) — The lifelong residence of the "Sage of Baltimore", Henry Louis Mencken, iconic journalist, writer, magazine editor, authority on American linguistics, and literary critic (1880-1956), will be re-opening its doors, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday, November 24, 1 – 4 PM.

Due to its association with the writer’s work, strong and detailed documentation, and original furnishings, the city-owned H.L. Mencken House can be considered among the Nation’s most significant house museums associated with an American man of letters.

Previously operated by the Baltimore City Life Museums from 1984 until 1997, the H.L. Mencken House since then has been vacant, with its furnishings, art works, and artifacts stored at the Maryland Historical Society and other locations; most of these items have been returned and recently re-installed in the house.

“I am extremely happy and delighted to see the Mencken House renovation completed and the museum re-opened, benefitting not only us, the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, which will operate the museum, but also to the City and specifically the Union Square community and Baltimore’s visitors experience. By preserving the Mencken house and keeping it accessible to the public, including Mencken scholars, current and future generations will gain a sense of the iconoclastic and influential writer and his legacy” says Brigitte V. Fessenden, Acting Curator of the Mencken House Museum.

Lease agreements between Baltimore City and the Baltimore National Heritage Area Association, Inc. (BNHA), which will occupy the third and part of the second floor of the house as office space, and the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, Inc., which has curatorial oversight and will operate the museum, have been drawn up.

"We hope to bring a new energy to the house and community" said BNHA Executive Director Shauntee Daniels. "Mencken was a complex individual as we all are in some way or another. I’d like to focus on what’s important – strong neighborhoods and community are what make Baltimore a monumental city. Mencken loved his hometown Baltimore, so I think he would agree".

A most generous bequest in the amount of now close to $ 3 million by former Mencken Society member Navy Commander Max Edwin Hency, for the purpose of restoring, re-opening, and operating the Mencken House, was received in 2006 and is managed by the City.

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, the historic preservation officer for the Baltimore City Department of General Service, is providing oversight of all city-owned historic structures, stating "The Mencken House is a very elegant example of residential architecture that is representative of how people in the city lived from the 19th century and up to the present. We want to tell that story and preserve the structure’s historical integrity".

Having undergone a $ 1.3 million restoration over the last 9 months, carried out by the Azola Building Rehab Company, this National and Baltimore City historic landmark will be once again accessible to the general public, Mencken scholars and fans, writers, students, and heritage travelers, enabling them to learn about the life and writings of H.L. Mencken and to see his preserved home and office from where he did most of his work.

The mission of the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, Inc. is to inform and educate a diverse local and national audience about the life and writings of Henry Louis Mencken in the City of Baltimore, by restoring, furnishing, and preserving his home and office, and by offering exhibits and programs that highlight Mencken’s legacy.


A New Chapter For H.L. Mencken House



Heritage Area Takes on House Restoration, Opening to Public as Museum Celebrating Life of the “Sage of Baltimore”

[Contact: Jeffrey Buchheit 410-878-6411 • jbuchheit@baltimoreheritagearea.org]

September 12, 2018 (Baltimore) — The Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) today entered into a lease agreement with the City of Baltimore to assume stewardship of the home of journalist, critic, and author H.L. Mencken (1880-1956). The three-story, Italianate rowhouse on Hollins Street was built around 1880 and is both a city landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Mencken, who reported for the Baltimore Sun, was known for myriad essays and his three-volume study The American Language. He lived in the house for most of his lifetime from 1883 until his death in 1956.

BNHA will manage the renovation, working closely with the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. Upon completion, the heritage area will collaborate with the Mencken Legacy Group to develop museum exhibitions and programming and set hours for the public to visit the home. Funds for renovation, ongoing maintenance, and interpretation will be provided by the estate of Max Hency, who made a $3 million bequest to Baltimore City for this purpose.

“We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration with our city agency partners to revitalize this local and national landmark,” said BNHA Executive Director Jeff Buchheit. “We look forward to working with the volunteers from the Mencken Legacy Group on how to best interpret the life and work of Mencken, including the controversial aspects of his career.”

While the house is structurally sound, years of vacancy require restoration of the home’s flooring and interior finishes, repairs to the roof, roofing repairs, and general improvements to bring the building up to modern codes. Once complete, rooms on the first and second floors will interpret Mencken’s life and legacy. BNHA will occupy the third floor as office space.

“I am very happy and grateful that this historic landmark will now be receiving the care and attention it deserves,” said Brigitte V. Fessenden, president of the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy. “It’s a win-win situation for the house, H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, the Union Square neighborhood, and heritage tourism for Baltimore City.”

The heritage area will begin to oversee the renovation project later this year. The goal is re-open the house with a public event on September 12, 2019, one year from today and the 139th birthday of the iconic writer that the New York Times called “the most powerful private citizen in the United States.”

The mission of the Baltimore National Heritage Area is to promote, preserve, and enhance Baltimore’s historic and cultural legacy and natural resources for current and future generations. Visit www.explorebaltimore.org for more information about the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

Now the Work Begins


City of Baltimore Leases Mencken House to the Baltimore National Heritage Area

by David Ettlin

The combined board of Friends of H.L. Mencken House and the Society for the Preservation of H.L. Mencken’s Legacy celebrated Henry’s 138th birthday — and a major step toward restoration of his historic house on Hollins Street — with cake and a champagne toast there Wednesday evening (Sept. 12).

The City of Baltimore has agreed to a lease of Mencken House to the Baltimore National Heritage Area organization, and expenditure of funds for its restoration — part of the bequest of nearly $3 million received by the city specifically for Mencken House a decade ago from the estate of the late Max Hency, a retired Navy commander who had been living in Hawaii.

The heritage organization plans to occupy the third floor, and the back portion of the second floor for use as its new headquarters, while the second floor front room — where Mencken did much of his writing — and the first floor will be space for a Mencken museum and events, such as literary talks and programs focusing on the Sage of Baltimore or in the spirit of his writing.

The contractor chosen for the project (costing upwards of $750,000) anticipates beginning the permit process for the work in coming weeks, and hopes for completion of the job by next summer.

Wednesday evening [09-12], representatives of the city, the Mencken groups, the contractor and Baltimore National Heritage Area had a modest celebration in Mencken House, including birthday cake and a champagne toast.

The photo of the celebrants, taken in the first floor living room, includes board members Betsey Waters and David Ettlin holding (for visual effect!) one of the architectural renderings by the late historic preservation architect Calvin Kobsa, whose volunteer efforts as a Friends member is being incorporated in the work of the project architect.

Photo courtesy of David Ettlin

Where Goes the Mencken House?


On Saturday, September 10, 2016, the Mencken Society held its annual meeting at France Hall of the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS), 201 W Monument St, not the Enoch Pratt Library as usual. The change of location was a temporary due to renovation work being done at the Pratt Library.

Jeffrey Buchheit, Executive Director, Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA), presented the goals of the BNHA which included the Mencken House’s “Very Bright Future.” Renovation of the House is to begin December 2017 and conclude August 2018. The House is to be officially reopened on September 12, 2018.

A common motif in the world’s folklore is the “sleeing hero”, a champion who is deeply hibernating until such time as extraordinarily perilous circumstances cause him to awaken and rise up to save his nation.

The Friends, far more modest in their ambitions, will be the sleeping hero of the Mencken House. They will keep tabs on what is and will be going on with the house and will work to ensure that progress follows the correct path.


What’s Happening With the Mencken House?

Attend the Mencken Day 2016 Celebration to get the official word on what is going on with the Mencken House.

Mencken Day 2016 will be celebrated this year on Saturday, September 10, at France Hall of the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W Monument St.

The day’s events are:

10:00 AM: Doors open.

10:30 AM: The Mencken Society’s Annual Meeting—all are welcome. The main speaker will be Jeffrey Buchheit, Executive Director, Baltimore National Heritage Area, whose topic is “H. L. Mencken House: A Very Bright Future.”

2:00 PM: The 2016 Mencken Memorial Lecture: “Joint Transmission: The Friendship of H. L. Mencken and Blanche Knopf” presented by Laura Claridge.

We hope to see you there.

Mencken Graveside Memorial Service 2015

The 10th Annual Service will be held Sunday, January 25, 2015 at 2:00 PM at the Mencken Family Grave site, Loudon Park Cemetery, 3620 Wilkens
Avenue, Baltimore. Signs will point the way to the grave-site. After the brief memorial service attendees are invited, as usual, to the Spirits West Country Club, 2601 Wilkens Avenue.

Loudon Park Cemetery: enter at 3620 Wilkens Ave, Baltimore, MD 21229. Note: the Frederick Ave entrance is closed. Enter through the Wilkens Ave entrance.

Location of grave: N 39° 16.693′ W 76° 40.683′ (39.278217°, -76.678050°)

For GPS users: Google maps recognizes geographic coordinates and knows the cemetery’s roads. Note that the Frederick Ave entrance is closed. Split your trip into two parts: leg 1 will be from your origin to 3620 Wilkens Ave, Baltimore, MD; leg 2 will be 3620 Wilkens Ave, Baltimore, MD to 39.278217°, -76.678050°.

Spirits West Country Club: 2601 Wilkens Ave (Cor. Millington Ave), Baltimore, MD 21223. (Make a left turn from Loudon Park onto Wilkens Ave. and drive 1.6 miles. Spirits West will be on your right at the end of Baltimores’s longest block of row houses and across the way from St Benedict’s Church.)

Mencken's Grave-site

Map to Mencken’s Grave-site

Jennifer Bodine on The Dignity of Work

The heyday of industrial Baltimore was captured by A. Aubrey Bodine, Mr Mencken’s associate, in his photographs for the Sunday Sun Magazine. The best of these photographs, showing men and women at work, have been selected by Jennifer Bodine, his daughter, and are reproduced in Bodine’s Industry: The Dignity of Work. Mr Mencken considered the competent man, whatever his trade, to be “the only sort of man who is really worth hell room ”.

Jennifer was interviewed on WYPR’s (88.1 FM) weekly radio magazine The Signal and the interview may be heard here.

Listen to the interview and get the book to see what Baltimore was like before America’s migration to an increasingly service economy.

Calvin Kern Kobsa, 1927-2014


July 31, 1927 – May 10, 2014

Calvin Kern Kobsa (1927-2014)

Calvin Kern Kobsa (1927-2014)

Calvin Kobsa, an architect for whom historic preservation was both a vocation and an avocation, involved himself from early on with The Friends of the H. L. Mencken House. In his career he saved some of the best of the City’s architectural fabric. Because of his work, another generation can have a link with the past, a link they can see and touch and use.

An old-school architect, he produced, by hand, a set of still-valuable architectural plans with detailed annotations directing how the house should be renovated. His experience in the architectural specialty of historic restoration and his historical sense of Baltimore will be missed.

Those wishing to make a gift in his memory may send a donation to The Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, 1524 Hollins Street, Baltimore, MD, 21223-2418.