Structurally speaking, 1990 brought significant changes

Jacques Kelly

January 03, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

The New Year is a good time to take stock and detail the changes in Baltimore in 1990.

After years of talk, the steel went up for the new downtown ball park. The playing field was graded and its intricate series of drainage pipes installed. And though it doesn't seem possible, 1991 will be the last year that the Orioles play in Memorial Stadium.

Another much-discussed project, light rail, arrived. All along the Jones Falls Valley and Howard Street and elsewhere along the route, construction crews are laying ties, building bridges and relocating utilities. A bridge over an arm of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River at Spring Gardens also began to take shape. Another major construction project is the extension of the Metro subway line from Calvert and Baltimore streets to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The harbor continued its hypnotic hold on downtown development. A sales office, marina and restaurant opened at HarborView, the first of a campus-like group of structures in an ambitious project along Key Highway. It is the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Ship Repair Yard.

Two huge downtown office buildings -- Commerce Place at South and Baltimore streets and the new tower rising above the IBM Building -- started rising out of the ground. And the old News American plant was demolished, although its solid walls and bank of presses gave the wreckers a hard time.

In Fells Point, the Belt's Wharf residences became a reality while Henderson's Wharf, its residential neighbor on Fell Street, was structurally modified.

It was a year when Fells Point continued to change, with Brown's Wharf, Thames and Fell streets getting new shops, residents and an intimate movie theater, the 80-seat Orpheum, much acclaimed by film buffs. Some will miss the bohemian Fells Point of the 1960s and 1970s with railroad cars on Bond Street. Today, the trains are gone and the vehicle is likely to be a Mazda Miata.

Howard Street seemed to bottom out in 1990, with seemingly as many shops closed as opened. The death of real estate mogul "Honolulu" Harry Weinberg caused many people to point to his role in the shopping district's decline.

It was a year of bankruptcies and auctions -- the Hotel Belvedere, the Marketplace area, the Brokerage and Power Plant.

But there was a ceremonial start to the new Columbus Center on Pratt Street. It promises to be the major harbor project of the 1990s.

Much-needed help arrived in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester community. Clearing began on the old Schmidt's bakery site at 1200 N. Carey St. for the Nehemiah One housing initiative. Some 300 new homes are planned for the neighborhood.

New homes were completed in Walbrook at Falls North in the 3400 block of W. North Ave. The long-vacant West Fayette Street brownstone houses facing Franklin Square, at Carey Street, were converted into apartments. And work at long last began on the Boundary Apartments, North and Guilford avenues.

And the conversion of the old Frederick Douglass High School, at Baker and Calhoun streets, to apartments was completed. A community group was formed to raise money to restore the school's auditorium, long a center of black musical and theatrical training.

The old Hamburg Street Bridge (it crosses the CSX Railroad west of Leadenhall Street in South Baltimore), an 80-year-old rusty relic, came down. It did not take long for its replacement to begin rising on the same location. It's not finished yet. Another bridge, at Guilford Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, reopened after repairs and a brilliantly colorful paint job. And the last auto went through the Cockeysville Underpass, a York Road traffic landmark from the 1930s.

And we said farewell to two well-known shopping emporiums. The final sale of store fixtures and merchandise at Hutzler Brothers' Towson store, the last bastion of this once dominant department store, occurred in 1990. And Epsteins gave up its Light Street operation, long a shopping counterpoint to the Cross Street Market.

Last year, the steel framing rose for the new Nordstrom's palace at the Towson Town Center. And the Baltimore Department of Social Services took up quarters in the upper floor of the former Sears' building at North and Harford avenues.

Several fine structures were renovated: the old Seton High School, today the Johns Hopkins Health Plan headquarters; the old Pine Street Police Station, a fancy Victorian dazzler now owned by the University of Maryland; and the former Louisa May Alcott School No. 59, Reisterstown Road and Keyworth Avenue, now the Alcott Place apartments.

It was also a year when people discovered that the stratospheric housing prices of the 1980s came down. One friend said he finally sold his Roland Avenue house at 30 per cent less than he had originally asked. But, on the other hand, the house he was moving into cost 30 per cent less than its owner originally asked.

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