For years, the Bell Foundry operated as a cooperatively run arts space that took its name and its building from the historic McShane Bell Foundry. But, since December 2016, the building has stood vacant. After the "Ghost Ship" warehouse fire in Oakland, California, the city cracked down on code violations in local DIY art spaces and evicted the tenants at the Bell Foundry.
Henry McShane started the McShane Bell Foundry at Holliday and Centre Streets in 1856. By the late nineteenth century, when the business expanded to Guilford Avenue (then known as North Street) the firm had already produced tens of thousands of bells and chimes, shipping them out to churches and public buildings across the country.
In 1935, the Henry McShane Manufacturing Company sold the foundry to William Parker, whose son continues to operate the business today. The McShane Bell Foundry moved in 1979 to Glen Burnie, Maryland, where their total production is over 300,000 bells made for cathedrals, churches, municipal buildings, and schools in communities around the world—including the 7,000-pound bell that hangs in the dome of Baltimore's City Hall. The firm is the only large Western-style bell maker in the United States and one of a handful of bell manufacturers around the world.
The entrance to the former foundry is now on Calvert Street. For years, the Bell Foundry was a thriving art space including the building and the adjacent grounds, where there is a community garden and a communal skate park. The basement was used for shows and rehearsal space. The Castle Print Shop was located upstairs along with rehearsal space for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. Outcry over the evictions in December 2016 prompted the creation of the Safe Art Space Task Force to address the broader issue of safety in underground art spaces. Unfortunately, no immediate repairs were available for the Bell Foundry and, in April 2017, the building's owners put it up for sale.