Originally the cities’ ‘coats of arms’ were painted directly into the masonry above the half timber corbels of the first floor of the Hansa Haus (located at Charles & Redwood) when it opened in 1912.
Among those thriving in business in 1912, the North German Lloyd was the first steamship company to establish direct freight and passenger transportation between Baltimore and Europe. Ships of the North German Lloyd had sailed between Locust Point and Bremen continuously since 1868. By 1912 the passenger traffic was so busy that A. Schumacher and Co., shipping agents for the North German Lloyd, needed to expand their office space. The Savings Bank of Baltimore built the structure for their German tenant according to specific instructions provided by Paul Hilken an officer of the shipping agency. The architectural firm of Parker, Thomas & Rice was instructed to model the building after a Sixteenth Century German Renaissance structure. The only difference was the second and third stories of the Baltimore Hansa Haus could not overhang the street as in medieval Germany because our post 1904 fire building code would not allow it.
The building was symbolically named the Hansa Haus in honor of the Hanseatic League of ‘German Hansa’, a medieval confederation of northern German cities. During the middle ages, they functioned as a group of independent cities to promote commerce and protect each other against pirates an hostile governments. The ‘coats of arms’ of those cities proudly decorated the building along with a tiled inlaid panel of a Hanseatic League freight and warship under full sail beneath the Charles Street gable.
The ground floor Charles Street entrance led visitors to a library reception area handsomely decorated, where cabin passengers could book their voyage. Steerage or third class and freight customers used the Redwood (then German) Street entrance. The original tenants also included the Imperial German Consulate as well as the Royal Swedish Vice-Consulate.
The outbreak of WWI and the US entrance into the war in 1914 interrupted the Bremen to Baltimore passenger service. It resumed in 1926 but by that time the German Street was renamed Redwood (in honor of the first Marylander killed in France) and the Hansa Haus had been suspected of being a ‘nest of spies’. Following WWII the building had different tenants and it was considered for demolition. The bank ultimately decided to restore the building and move its President and Personnel Division into the historic edifice. The ‘coats of arms’ over the years had become so worn and dirty they could just about be seen. Ms. Eric Berquist called the bank to let them know she still had the original patterns for the 37 coats of arms as designed by William Frederick Hiltz. The bank used the tracings and color from Hiltz’s design and created a new set of heraldic plagues. They were painted in enamel on primed aluminum and varnished. When the bank merged with other banks the title to the property changed hands. The plagues were taken down and displayed inside. After several more tenant changes, the plagues disappeared. It was discovered that the present owners of the building had the foresight to have them framed and kept in storage for future use. At the present time, there are only 32 plagues.