We celebrate Baltimore's historic neighborhoods and save old buildings!
For over twenty years, the Copycat - named for the roof top billboard of the Copycat printing company - has offered studio space and living space for countless artists, musicians, and performers. The history of creativity in this local landmark has a long history extending back to the construction of the Copycat Building in the 1890s as a factory complex for Baltimore’s Crown Cork & Seal Company.
Maryland native William Painter invented the “crown cork” bottle cap - a predecessor of the bottle cap still common today - at Murrill & Keizer’s machine shop on Holliday Street in 1891. A prolific inventor with over 85 patents, Painter established the Crown Cork & Seal Company in 1892 and started producing both bottle caps and bottling machines. The business quickly outgrew their factory on East Monument Street and moved north to Guilford Avenue in September 1897 into a grand six-floor factory with handsome Victorian details.
As with all industrial enterprises in Baltimore, their growth was driven by the labor of thousands of men, women and children who worked at the factory and frequently organized to seek improved conditions and wages. In 1899, for example, 65 boys between the ages of 13 and 18 employed feeding the machines that placed the cork seals into the caps went on strike. Company officials remained unconcerned, remarking that the “places of any who may not come back will be easily filled by other boys.” The firm continued to expand, adding a machine shop (now known as the Lebow Building) next door on Oliver Street in 1914, and building new factory buildings in Highlandtown where they moved in the 1930s.
The building on Guilford Avenue remained in use by a wide range of tenants from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s through a whole host of over twenty industrial enterprises occupying the building in the 1960s. In 1983, Charles Lankford purchased the building and converted the industrial space to art studios. Soon artists began illegally converting their studio spaces into apartments and by the mid-1980s, the Copycat began to host a vital community of local artists and musicians. The building remains an anchor in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District - rezoned as “mixed-used” to accommodate the diverse tenants - and offers a unique perspective on the history of industry in central Baltimore.
Text from Explore Baltimore Heritage. Cover photo from Elvert Barnes via Flickr.