Baltimore non-profit salvages material from abandoned buildings

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As a general overview, the fortunes of U.S. industrial history can be traced by looking through the country’s architectural record. The exceptional wealth amassed by Gilded Age industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and J. D. Rockefeller at the turn of the 19th century helped fund dozens of landmarks. Later, a post-War productivity boom in automobiles and interstate highways resulted in its own roadside vernacular made of gas stations and motels. Downturns can be identified following mid-century stagnation and the subsequent decline of domestic manufacturing, with overnight neighborhood abandonment often being a response to the shuttering of vital facilities. These sudden changes and the failure of industries to regenerate has been responsible for urban blight, most evident in Rust Belt towns that relied heavily on a single industry.

It’s at this point that non-profit Brick + Board enters the scene in Baltimore, offering an optimistic crossroads for urban renewal. As one cornerstone, Brick + Board plays a role in demolition and material salvage from neglected residential buildings, often large houses which stifle enthusiasm for the redevelopment of entire streets. Joining this revivalist confluence from another direction is Baltimore’s problem of high unemployment and the ongoing question over how best to re-integrate returning citizens, an issue that Brick + Board handles through hiring ex-offenders into green-collar jobs. To extend these positive forces, inventory is processed and stored in a central facility in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, creating positive inner city density. These operational decisions are further curbed by an environmental backdrop, with precious wood and old brick given a new lease of life through.

Brick + Board first started operating in January 2016, then incorporated as a social enterprise within Humanim, a 501 (c)(3) also based in Baltimore. Humanim is the parent organisation of one of Brick + Board’s key partners, Details Deconstruction, also committed to harnessing the potential for salvage industries to create lasting jobs for locals who previously experienced barriers to employment.

These operations are well matched by a digital footprint at brickandboard.com and on the company’s social media pages. Uploaded onto the well-branded website, reconditioned materials are neatly showcased, opening themselves to the scrutiny of the most discerning salvage enthusiasts in the United States. Common Brick, Face Brick and Marble Steps form three brick and stone categories, while wooden cladding, boards and beams from White Oak, Red Oak, Chestnut, Yellow Pine and Douglas Fir area presented in a range of finishes (wire-brushed, planed, rough-sawn).

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Other items and anecdotes from Brick + Board’s work also find their place on the website and social media, serving as a reminder of Baltimore’s industrial legacy. On one page, the markings of tradesmen operating the Chesapeake Bay in the 19th century are presented (image below). Cast an eye through the company Instagram to get an idea of the tactility and the variety of take-down projects - plenty of inspiration for home renovators and business owners to create inspiring spaces. All demolitions are unique by definition, with crews of varying expertise and size deployed across the East Coast.

Browse further through these interfaces and the integrity of Brick + Board’s mission is founded. In the “About” copy, the company’s pillar of job creation is made clear:

“Salvage is what we do, but we’re about more than just amassing dusty old stacks of lumber… we’re about making sure that the fruits of the salvage industry – the materials it provides and the jobs it creates – are available to all.”

This navigation of urban, digital, cultural realms points to the deep interest of Brick + Board’s founder Max Pollock, a Maryland local who serves as the company’s Director. Pollock’s breadth of knowledge and experience allows him to traverse the worlds of hard manual labour and academia. Having completed a MSc from LSE in City Design and Social Science, Pollock now speaks at international conferences when not on site or in the Remington warehouse. While recognising the important social work of Brick + Board, Pollock is aware of that over one million buildings stand abandoned east of the Mississippi - no shortage of supply, and good news given the growing appeal of re-use building material.

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Pollock and his team play a role in the ongoing revival of one of America’s promising legacy towns. In continuing on from early industrialists, Brick + Board has managed to transpose ethics from German immigrant William Heise, mentioned in the company’s Journal. Having emigrated from Europe in the mid-19th century, Heise was active in Baltimore during the Civil War, gradually earning him a reputation as being of “public-spirited class” set out to “[keep Baltimore] at the front in trade and commerce and bringing its resources and advantages most prominently to the attention of the country at large.” Given what Brick + Board have been up to in their first three years, it wouldn’t be surprising if Heise’s reputation is matched.

For more information on Brick + Board and its dynamic inventory, visit brickandboard.com.

* “Baltimore, Gateway to the South, Liverpool of America,” a monograph from 1898