The Washington Apartment House at the northwest corner of Charles Street and Mt. Vernon Place is a one of the finest Beaux Arts apartment houses in Baltimore. After the controversial construction of The Severn in 1895, many Mt. Vernon residents were suspicious of new "skyscrapers." Just a month after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, the Baltimore Municipal Arts Society successfully pushed the Maryland State Legislature to pass an "Anti-Skyscraper Bill" prohibiting the construction of any building (other than churches) over seventy feet high within one block of the Washington Monument. William F. Cochran, the developer of the Washington Apartments, built right up to the limit of 70 feet before suing to erect an 8 foot addition. His lawsuit failed, reinforcing the restriction that became known as Maryland's first zoning law and was one of the earliest zoning laws in the United States.
William Cochran was born to privilege–his grandfather, Alexander Smith, had amassed a fortune as a carpet manufacturer in Yonkers, New York. Cochran moved to Baltimore in 1902 after marrying Annie Lorraine Gill. Despite his comfortable position among the local high society, he found his personal wealth troubling, explaining in an address on the "Passing of the Idle Rich" at Westminster Church, "The joy of having abundance is terribly mitigated when one is confronted with the sight of and appeals from people living under the opposite conditions. It seems all wrong."
While Cochran was vocal about his socialist ideals, he also sympathized with in the wealthy Mt. Vernon residents who sought to control the character of their neighborhood's development. He explained his purchase of the property at 700 Washington Place, remarking, "A strong desire of property holders on Mt. Vernon Place to control the kind of building to be erected on this site led me to purchase it to prevent anyone from building a skyscraper." Cochran bought the vacant mansion, built for Edward McDonald Greenway in 1835, in April 1905 for $160,000 and soon starting planning for a modern apartment house that could meet with approval from the neighbors.
The architect Cochran selected for the job was Edward H. Glidden, a Cleveland native, who arrived in Baltimore around the same time as Cochran. Glidden had already started a career that led him to become one of the city's foremost architects for apartment buildings with projects including the Stork Apartment House (1903) at Park and Monument, the Marlborough Apartments (1906) on Eutaw Place, Homewood Apartments (1910) at Charles and 31st Street, The Latrobe, Canterbury Hall and Tudor Hall Apartments. Glidden even lived at Homewood Apartments at the time of his death in 1924.
Washington Apartments went up quickly in 1906 at a cost of $300,000. Its six stories included 28 luxurious apartments and 29 rooms for servants. Measuring 69 feet and 8 inches tall, the building stood just under the recently instituted 70-foot height limit. Less than a year after completion, however, Cochran sought a permit application to build one more story, eight feet tall and set back twenty feet, to contain additional rooms for servants. The permit was denied and Cochran went to court, lost, then lost again on appeal in June 1908 with an important decision that affirmed the ability of the city to regulate building heights.