Baltimore Equitable Society
First established in 1847 by a group of prominent businessmen, the Eutaw Savings Bank spent its first decade operating out of the Eutaw House Hotel located on the same site as the Hippodrome Theater. In 1856, the Eutaw Savings Bank purchased a lot across the street on the corner of Eutaw and Fayette Street from the estate of Michael F. Keyser, a director of the Eutaw Savings Bank who died in 1855. The bank demolished the grand old mansion that occupied the corner to make way for a "more modern and beautiful edifice" designed by Baltimore architect Joseph F. Kemp in an Italian Renaissance Revival style and built at a cost of around $22,000.
The Building Committee of the Board of Directors for the bank praised their own work with the statement that, "for neatness, convenience, and durability, it is at its cost unequaled by any other banking house in our city." Within a few years, the reportedly "popular and thriving" bank had outgrown their building and decided to purchase a lot directly across Eutaw Street. Their new brownstone bank, later adapted for use as part of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in 2004, opened in 1889.
The Baltimore Equitable Society (still operating in Baltimore City under the name Baltimore Equitable Insurance) purchased the building in 1889 and maintained offices in the building for over 114 years, until 2003. Founded in 1794 as the first fire insurance company in Baltimore, the "Baltimore Equitable Society for Insuring of Houses from Loss By Fire" was modeled after The Philadelphia Contributorship, a fire insurance company founded by Benjamin Franklin, among others. The Baltimore Equitable Society remains the oldest corporation in Maryland, and the nation's fourth oldest fire insurance company.
The Baltimore Equitable Society endured many challenges over the decades, from the War of 1812, the Civil War, economic depressions and other calamities. The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 resulted in a loss of $1.5 million but the firm still paid all of its policyholders' claims in full, with an officer of the bank later explaining, "we were hit hard, but are still strong." When the Great Depression caused other banks and insurance companies to close down, the Baltimore Equitable Society actually thrived, increasing assets by 23% and even opened a Fire Museum in the second floor of its building. After the 1968 riots that led to the loss of buildings due to fire, some insurance companies refused to cover homes and businesses in the City of Baltimore. However, the Society continued insuring properties within the City regardless of the perceived increased risk.
Although the Baltimore Equitable Society left the building in 2003, it remains a handsome reminder of Baltimore's early financial history on the West Side. Looking at the first floor windows, you can still read the words "Baltimore" and "Insurance" painted in gold on its lower panes, the remnants of a "Baltimore Equitable Insurance" sign and inside the decorative wood work and grand tall windows remain in excellent shape.