The building that replaces Zachary's Jewelers, destroyed in a fire in downtown Annapolis last week, won't be made to look like the Georgian-inspired building that sits to its left, or the Italianate facade to its right.

Done right, historic preservationists say, the building will be a classic example of . . . the present.

"What we have here is an opportunity to put a building here on Main Street that a hundred years from now historians will be able to look at and say, 'Here's a great example of early 21st-century architecture,' " said William Schmickle, chairman of the city's Historic Preservation Committee, which governs new development and renovations in the city's historic core.

City officials have set an aggressive timeline to put a new structure in Zachary's space and repair the two buildings on each side of it that were damaged in Friday's five-alarm blaze. Officials still don't know what caused the fire, but foul play has been ruled out.

At a news conference this week, Mayor Ellen Moyer (D) said she hopes most of the restoration can be completed by May.

"I know that's idealistic, but we want to move to get this done," Moyer said.

The building is owned by Harvey Blonder, who has vowed to rebuild quickly. Before any construction begins, though, the rebuilding plans must be approved by the preservation commission, which follows a meticulous but sometimes subjective set of guidelines. Among them: no mimicry.

"New buildings which merely imitate the forms and materials of historic buildings dilute the quality of existing historic structures," the guidelines state.

While it might seem incongruous to plop a modern building amid a row of historic ones, preservationists don't see it that way. The bigger sin, they say, would be to create buildings that paint a false picture of the city's history.

The trick is harmoniously blending the old with the new.

"It's designing a building that respects the history without imitating it, so that the casual observer does not think every building on the street is 200 years old, " said Alexandria architect Richard Bierce, a consultant for the preservation commission.

That means creating a structure that is similar in scale to, and visually compatible with, the buildings around it but that still "speaks to its own time," Bierce said.

A stroll along through the city's historic district offers a glimpse of that philosophy.

Along Prince George Street is the William Paca House, once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Built around 1763, the three-story brick mansion is an example of Georgian architecture, named for the English style that predominated during the reigns of the four King Georges, from 1714 to 1820.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the prevailing architectural interest was in revivals. St. Mary's Church on Duke of Gloucester Street, built in 1858, is Gothic revival; St. Anne's Church on Church Circle, 1859, is Romanesque revival.

Bierce says a new building planned for 184 Main St., which has been a vacant lot since a 1997 fire destroyed two century-old buildings there, is a perfect example of blending a modern facade and materials with a historic setting. The design uses a mix of brick, cast stone, copper and glass. Architect Chip Bohl said he was inspired by the abundant mix of architectural styles that make up the city.

"There's a way about Annapolis in which very different time periods collide into each other, so this building is a knitting together of the fabric of the city, and at the same time it makes a statement that it is a building of 2005," Bohl said.

A rubble granite wall at the building's foundation, for example, represents the many fragments of old buildings upon which many newer structures in Annapolis are built, he said.

The three-story building, which will face Main Street on one side and State Circle on the other, will have about 2,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor and office space on the floors above. Among its more unusual features will be a robotic underground parking garage.

The design is set to go before the Historic Preservation Commission on Dec. 13. Approval would bring an end to an acrimonious eight-year land-use battle between the city and the property's current and former owners.

The question now is whether a similar battle looms over the site of last week's fire.

The Main Street Ice Cream building at 128 Main St. was the oldest of the three buildings damaged in the blaze. The three-story structure with a sloping red tin roof and extending dormers was built in the vernacular style, with roots in the late Georgian period, said Donna Hole, the city's chief of historic preservation.

Two doors down, the Candy Factory building at 118 Main St. was built sometime between 1858 and 1877 in the Italianate style popular between 1850 and 1900. The style is characterized by a flat row house-style facade with deep overhanging cornices at the top supported by decorative wooden brackets.

Those buildings will have to be restored adhering as closely as possible to their original designs, according to historic zoning guidelines.

The Zachary's building, which had been modified over the years, dates to at least 1885, when it first appears on a city fire map, Hole said. Getting the commission and the public to sign off on a design could be difficult. While such measures as scale and roof design are objective, visual compatibility is ultimately subjective.

And departing from historic precedent can be jarring to residents who find comfort in the quaint designs of the past.

"In my experience, the issue of differentiation is one of the thorniest for people to deal with," Bierce said. "Looking backward is easy. What's difficult is doing our part in contributing to that architectural evolution."

Whatever is built to replace Zachary's Jewelers, a white-facade structure on Annapolis's Main Street that was destroyed by a fire, must follow city preservation guidelines so that it is contemporary -- and compatible -- in design.