Facility Name: Merritt Downtown Athletic Club
Square Footage: 66,000 square feet
In a Former Life: A train depot built in 1860
Cost of Renovation: Millions of dollars
Fun Fact: Abraham Lincoln visited the station at least once during his lifetime, and his body was stationed in the depot overnight during his funeral procession.
Health club members can take a step back in time by visiting the Merritt Downtown Athletic Club. The 66,000-square-foot fitness facility is located inside of a 148-year-old train depot in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood of downtown Baltimore.
The brick building was once part of a large train complex for the southern end point of the North Central Railroad. Over the years, it has undergone many transformations as a passenger terminal, Railway Express building and a storage shed. Before Merritt purchased the building in 1989, the historic landmark was the home of a tennis and racquet club.
The facility features high ceilings and spans 300 feet by 100 feet. Due to the sheer size of the facility, the owners were able to gradually add many amenities, such as a golf-driving cage, Olympic training center, full-service restaurant, a new lobby and group exercise studios. The club also converted the lower level courts into an area with a new rubberized track, women's locker room, mind/body studio and the only full-court basketball gym in downtown Baltimore. In addition, Merritt added heat and air conditioning.
Despite all these changes, the facility originally maintained its California redwood roof because of its historic nature. However, issues with leaks led the club owners to shingle the roof, although the ceiling is still the original California redwood ceiling. When the complex was built, the roof was the largest indoor area in the world with a suspension system and no internal supports.
The club owners also added a mezzanine level to the building to house fitness equipment.
"We basically built another building inside of the existing building," says Donyel Hood, the club company's director of marketing.
When club members walk into the building, they can still feel the vibe of the old train station, says Veronica Meza, senior sales manager.
"As soon as people take a tour, they want to know what the building was used for before," she says.
Although Merritt has had to invest in the continued maintenance and upkeep of the club, the history of the building has helped attract new members.
"It's such a unique facility that people can't help but want to know about it," Meza says. "When they walk inside, they can't believe how big it is, and when they walk around to the back of it, they'll see that some of the tracks are still there."