Just another block

April 29, 1991

The legendary if notorious slice of Baltimoriana known as The Block will soon be just memory, the victim of inexorable downtown redevelopment that is transforming the face of this city. Few will lament the demise of the tawdry strip of bars, sex showcases and adult bookstores along East Baltimore Street that today is but a vestige of its former self. As The Evening Sun's Thomas W. Waldron reported last week, Baltimore's Block gradually is becoming just another block.

Most of what people remember of Baltimore's tenderloin district was just that -- legend. Yes, Blaze Starr once performed there when burlesque was a minor art form and almost -- but not quite -- respectable. But like most aging remnants of faded glory, Block history is highly embellished with nostalgia. Truth to tell, the area was always more rot than glitter.

Now that rising commercial real estate values are pushing the trade from downtown, the problem has become one of dispersion, as individual businesses scatter and relocate on any available fringe of the metro area. Human nature being what it is, there will always be a market for such enterprise. Yet the problem becomes more rather than less difficult when it is not confined to a single, sharply defined section of the city.

The example of Body Talk, a Block-style club featuring scantily-clad young women that opened in Baltimore County last year, illustrates both the scattering trend and the extent to which local citizens can mobilize against it. When residents along the Liberty Road corridor got wind of the scheme, they pelted the club's owners with a grab bag of petty harassments ranging from zoning law citations to hastily adopted anti-smut ordinances. After a year of such skirmishing, the owners conceded defeat and agreed to turn the club back into a pool hall.

Not all communities have fared so well. But the tide of the times probably militates against any great revival of the skin trade in the suburbs. With the last curtain of the last show of the last bar on The Block, an era will have ended -- and none too soon.

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