Sunday, January 27, 2008


The fence on our porch after a recent snowstorm.

This weekend Matt and I went in search of an old piece of fencing. We wanted a specific style of wrought iron, one that was first designed here in Baltimore by G. Krug & Sons, an ironworks factory that has been in operation since 1810. (I've heard that they are one of the oldest continuously running ironworks warehouses in the country. They are, to be sure, one of the few left in active operation here in Baltimore.)

Pieces of this particular fence line our front porch and a small section of our back patio. A neighbor tells me there was once more of it on our property, but that it slowly went missing over the years, probably sold to the exact kind of place that we went to visit on Saturday...a salvage company called Second Chance.

Outside one of the warehouses at Second Chance

Second Chance is a repository for old building materials, antiques, and architectural elements, mostly recovered from deconstructed buildings. The salvage is housed in five massive warehouses along an industrial-looking road near the city's football stadium. They have stained glass and tin ceilings, mantels and flooring. They have piles of doorknobs and rows and rows of old doors. They have shutters and slate roofing and marble slabs, and piles of hinges and hooks and ceramic tiles. They have the kinds of things that were once fabricated in these very warehouses. Now, instead of producing, the buildings house the ghostly remains of industries long gone.

There are parking lots filled with claw foot tubs and old toilets (above).

Some of the remnants are on a massive scale, like the flower-shaped lampposts, pictured below, that once lit Patterson Park, a grand patch of green in the heart to the city. Inside one warehouse is a fully intact, enormous green marble shower from the late 1800's that came out of a summer mansion on the Eastern Shore.

There was a time when Second Chance had bargains. It was the kind of off-the-beaten path place that rewarded the patient person willing to roam its drafty halls and dig through piles of crap to find the diamond in the rough. There were lots of contractors in search of deals and lots of scrappy homeowners determined on a DIY historic rehab of their nearby rowhouse.

Today, it's pricier. There's been press, stories of the treasures that can be unearthed inside. On this particular Saturday there was an older couple debating the purchase of a very expensive marble sink. She wore a full length fur, he wore the kind of thin-rimmed black glasses reserved for architects and curators of contemporary art.

Another family was there on a field trip with their young son, probably about 7. They walked through the warehouse as though it were a museum, commenting on the antique pieces and marveling at what once outfitted a home. Their son chased the resident cat. The mother kept saying, "Isn't this just so cool?" At the register a sign read, "Unattended children will be given free espresso and a new puppy."

An incredibly patient woman listened as we explained our half-baked idea for making a pot rack out of a sliver of this old fencing, how we wanted to affix it to the wood beams in our kitchen with chain and hang S hooks for the pots. She took us outside into the bitterly cold day and walked us through stacks of fencing. I gave up well before she did. Undeterred, she kept at it in the freezing cold and, when we finally admitted defeat, promised to keep an eye out and give us a call if what we wanted came in. I thanked her, but thought that we probably couldn't afford the fence if it could be found. I come less and less to Second Chance these days because it seems too expensive. I longed for the early days when I could find a surprisingly good deal.

We left and headed to our next stop: Home Depot. Walking through the neatly organized aisles, I noted the price differences. It's much, much cheaper to buy a doorstop or doorknob or a door here. As we navigated our way through the Self Check Out line—because they don't actually staff the registers on a Saturday anymore— and as we tried to scan a 12 foot piece of 2X 4, I thought about the woman at Second Chance. I thought about the rising prices there and about the human energy that goes into extracting something from a building in such a way that it can be reused, and so that it doesn't wind up in a landfill. And I thought about what I had once read on their website:

In our throw-away world, buildings are only meant to last for 20 years, shingles are plastic and old-world craftsmanship is nearly impossible to find.

Second Chance gives old buildings new life. We work with local and regional architects, builders and contractors to search out old buildings which are entering the demolition phase.

We rescue the wood, metal, marble, plaster, stone and other architectural elements that make the building special. We give these pieces new lives, in new homes, in new ways, with new uses.

It's a Second Chance.

And I thought that the extra money seemed worth it.