By Tiffany James
If you have visited Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, there is a good chance you have driven by or walked past one of our new Doors Open Baltimore sites—Chase Brexton Health Care’s Mt. Vernon Center located in the Monumental Life Building. For 84 years, this 1928 structural goliath housed its namesake owner, the Monumental Life Insurance Company. In 2012, the building welcomed its current owner, Chase Brexton, a community health center with its own rich history in Mount Vernon.
“We started in 1978 as a volunteer-run gay men’s health clinic,” said Alexa Milanytch, Director of Community Engagement for Chase Brexton. “Today, we still serve the LGBT community, but we are equally committed to offering welcoming, affirming care to vulnerable populations and individuals who are in need of affordable health care.”
To help patients in need, Chase Brexton encourages support from individuals, small businesses and corporations by hosting community events, such as the Charm Ball, their annual gala, which will be held at the B&O Railroad Museum on September 23. “[Proceeds] will be going to our “Hope Lives Here” hardship fund accessed by our case managers to help patients with their medical needs and to reduce barriers into care,” Milanytch said.
During Doors Open Baltimore 2017, Chase Brexton is embracing the opportunity to share both its mission and the Monumental Life Building’s story. “I’m proud of the work that we do and the place where we do it,” Milanytch said. “When I give tours to raise awareness of our efforts, I ask the question ‘Have you ever been inside this building?’ Many people reply, ‘I remember coming here as a [kid] with my grandmother when she would come to pay her insurance policy.’ Other people would say, ‘I have passed by this building a thousand times and I’ve never walked inside.’ So I was thrilled to hear about the opportunity to participate in Doors Open Baltimore 2017. It’s important that the community knows that this building and everyone at Chase Brexton welcomes them.”
This inclusivity purpose is evident in the renovations Chase Brexton implemented throughout the Monumental Life Building, especially in the building’s entry level spaces. “We have community rooms available for free to local nonprofits in need of a place to gather so there’s another opportunity to step into the building,” Milanytch said.
Located next to the community rooms is another gem, which will be open only to Doors Open Baltimore visitors: the original wood-paneled 1928 board room. The room underwent restoration in 2012 thanks to a donation from the France-Merrick Foundation, and was later used in a scene of the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
“[The board room] was such a historic prize within the building,” said Faith Nevins Hawks, the Marks, Thomas Architects principal who collaborated on the renovation project. “We adapted the program to work with the space. It became the entry level, special reception room…and a way to display the benefits of this historic building.”
At the same time, Hawks believes the removal and infill of the original elevator core tells the building’s most intriguing story. “By taking out the core, an open floor plate was available to design two “pods” both with central medical staff surrounded by patient exam rooms accessible from both sides allowing medical staff and patients separate entries. This way the staff could coordinate their resources and services more readily and the patients could have more privacy.”
Doors Open Baltimore participants will get the chance to make up their own minds about the building’s most interesting story when they visit the Chase Brexton Health Care’s Mt. Vernon Center in the Monumental Life Building on October 28, 2017.