If you’ve ever driven down Monroe Street to Washington Boulevard, you’ve seen this forlorn building next to the bridge:
The brick wall is crumbing, and the building has been in disrepair for years. On first glance, it appears to be just another one of Baltimore’s many vacant properties, left to rot over the decades. However, a little research shows this isn’t just any property — it has historic significance, ties to a famous local family, and deserves to be recognized and celebrated.
The building was built in the late 19th century, as the headquarters and manufacturing center for the Alma Manufacturing Company, the first company in the United States to make steel buttons and fasteners for clothing. The company held several patents for their work, among them No. 963,193 and No. 934,136, for buckles.
On the property were long, low mill and multi-story and high-ceiling manufacturing buildings, situated near the rail tracks.
The Alma Manufacturing company was founded by a German immigrant, Herman Kerngood, in 1887. At the beginning of the 20th century, Herman Kerngood formed a partnership with Moses Hecht, Benjamin F. Hecht, Nathan I. Hecht, S.B. Sonneborn, and Isaac Blum, to establish the American Steel Buckle Company, Inc. with an authorized capital stock of $1000. The Hechts were of the same family that started Hecht Brothers and the Hecht Company chain of department stores in the Baltimore-Washington region, starting with a used furniture store founded by Samuel Hecht, in 1857.
The company was taken over by Herman’s sons after his death, and then sold to another manufacturing company in 1946.
Source: Baltimore Sun, August 2010 “Shopping in Fells Point at Hecht’s Reliable Store” by Jacques Kelly
Sometime around 1983, the complex was purchased by one Mahendra “Mike” Shah, who named the industrial center “Shah Industrial Park”. One of its tenants at that time was the Naron Candy Company.
In 1996, the complex burned to the ground in one of the worst fires in SW Baltimore. It was later determined by the court that Shah had committed numerous counts of insurance fraud, arson, mail and wire fraud violations, and money laundering. He was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison, in 2004. In 2006, Shah sought to overturn his conviction, but the US Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit, denied his appeal.
Currently, the property is owned by a graphic artist and his wife, having purchased the property in 2009. I reached out to them twice to find out what they intend to do with the property — once two weeks ago, and then again this morning. Hopefully they’ll respond. It’s a terrible shame to see such an important property fall into an even greater state of disrepair.
Reader Rusty is on a roll!
Property Address: 1118 N Milton Street, Baltimore, MD 21205
Property Owner: William Lewis, 4018 Balfern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213/PO Box 20819, Baltimore, MD 21239
City Council District and Contact: District 13, Warren Branch
State Senator: Nathaniel McFadden
This property was foreclosed on by a Florida company, Fidelity Tax, LLC. The LLC shared the same address with BankAtlantic in Ft. Lauderdale, until its address changed in 2011 — less than a year before BankAtlantic’s CEO and Chairman, Alan Levan, was charged with real estate fraud by the SEC. Fidelity Tax LLC’s resident agent was Stan Linnick, BankAtlantic’s Senior Vice President and Enterprise Risk Manager.
Until 2006, BankAtlantic’s CEO was the registered agent for a now-defunct Florida corporation, Fidelity Tax Corporation, which became Fidelity Tax, LLC, without Alan Levan’s name in the company’s ownership documents.
We’ve been posting information on this group for a while — Metro Dream Homes owner and founder Andrew Hamilton Williams, Jr. from Hollywood Florida has been sentenced to 150 years in prison for his role in a $78 million mortgage fraud scheme that left some homeowners penniless.
“This case exemplifies the egregious mortgage fraud schemes that flourished in the lending free-for-all that contributed to the bubble and collapse of the housing market,” said U.S Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Coordinated law enforcement is helping to hold the perpetrators accountable, but the real solution is meaningful oversight and auditing of lending decisions.”
“These individuals were responsible for shattering the dreams of countless hard working families during one of our country’s worst economic downturns,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely. “The teamwork exhibited by all participating agencies throughout the joint investigation was exemplary.”
Read more about this scam and the co-conspirators in this FBI press release.
Bill Information: House Bill 1081 would ensure that property owners who have elected to take the Homestead Property Tax, and have later been found ineligible, would not only owe the back taxes — there would also be a financial penalty for claiming a tax credit they’re not entitled to.
Why This Is Important: Municipalities can ill afford to allow residents to claim tax credits they’re not entitled to — the loss of tax revenue is too great. Baltimore City loses roughly $1 million annually due to owners of rental, secondary, or vacant property taking the Homestead Property Tax Credit fraudulently…or “by accident”. This would not only ensure the municipality would have legal recourse to claim the back taxes, but the added penalty would serve as a deterrent against further abuse by property owners.
What You Should Do: Contact your Maryland legislators and ask them to support this important bill.
Owner of a Maryland title company pleads guilty to stealing almost $5 million from customers.
Occupy Oakland takes the vacant house problem to a new level. Please note, we DO NOT encourage this irresponsible and destructive behavior.
Home prices are falling again — no surprises there.
Baltimore City calls its “Vacants to Value” plan “baby steps” towards dealing with the problem of vacant homes — we call it nonsense.
A filmmaker in Youngstown, Ohio documents the life and death of one vacant house.
Speaking of Youngstown, it’s become somewhat of a maverick in the “shrinking cities” movement. Baltimore needs to shrink — what do you think?
Toledo is expected to demolish a record number of abandoned homes this year.
You’ve probably heard that Senator Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) has launched an investigation into the fraud and waste at Baltimore Housing — read a letter from Senator Grassley to Sean Donovan, HUD Secretary here. Link opens a PDF.
Property owners receiving the homestead tax credit — beware. If you’re not actually living in the home, you’ll probably lose the credit, and owe the city back taxes. And rightfully so. However, we find it odd this article doesn’t give credit (no pun intended) where credit is due. A resident is responsible for finding the city’s negligence, as documented here in an earlier article.
Kevin Pushia, a disgraced pastor and slumlord, was sentenced to life plus 45 years for his role in the murder of a mentally disabled man in Baltimore. You can read more about this “man of the cloth” here.
The FBI has released the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report — interesting reading. You can see which gangs are active in each state here.
Richmond has two slots for tenant representatives on the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, yet one of the slots remain unfilled.
New multi-family subsidized housing comes to Brewer’s Hill and O’Donnell Heights.
Lots of links this evening — enjoy!
US Conference of Mayors adopts resolution supporting Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (from the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning).
Apparently someone out there thinks the City’s “Vacants to Values” program is a good thing, because Mayor Rawlings-Blake was given an award. We’re still searching for the “Value” part.
Canadian slumlords face jail time for SRO housing violations. Don’t you wonder what really goes on in the “Wonder Rooms”? On second thought…
Police find 27 dogs in a vacant home in Chicago — I guess Chicago’s thugs are taking a lesson from Baltimore’s?
Pueblo Colorado enacts legislation to deal with their vacant property problem.
A vacant house in Richmond burns to the ground, creates more vacant homes.
Someone in Flint, Michigan REALLY doesn’t like vacant homes.
Baltimore-area title company owner sentenced to four years in prison for mortgage fraud.