Once more, rescuing the pagoda

May 06, 1991|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff

DORIS AND Benjamin Terry met 50 years ago on Palm Sunday in the shadow of the Patterson Park Observatory. There, Doris would come with her girlfriends, and Benjamin would come from Edgewood with his soldier buddies. "We just got together and talked," Doris Terry, 68, remembers. "And there was no monkey business."

But it was not until Benjamin returned from the war and the couple got married that they both ascended the spiral staircase to the top of the 60-foot, octagonal tower to survey their Baltimore universe -- the Washington Monument and the growing city to the west, the busy harbor, and their own working-class neighborhood, a lively melting pot of people who had made their way to the New World from Europe. Later, the couple would bring their three children and their five grandsons to play in the park, one of the city's most continuously vibrant public spaces.

The Terrys live in the same home Doris was born in, on N. Lucerne Avenue in East Baltimore -- just down the street from the pagoda. "I like Patterson Park. I like the pagoda. It's nice, it's always been nice. I don't care what anybody says; it's nice," Doris Terry says.

Yesterday, the Terrys stood among a large cluster of folks who gathered to celebrate the commitment of the Butchers Hill Association and other East Baltimore residents to restore the faded and often vandalized pagoda, which turns 100 next year.

Two deejays named "Heavy J" and "The Kid" played oldies, disco and standards. Guests munched cookies and sipped lemonade. An indigent man sprawled comfortably on the pagoda steps. Visitors passed between the pagoda's two marble Chinese palace lions to inspect architectural and landscaping blueprints, displayed on the ground floor. A photographic park history was also on view.

City council members and state legislators in serious dark suits mingled. Councilman Dominic Mimi di Pietro wrapped cookies in a napkin. Young boys with plastic weapons scampered among the cannons, a reminder of the time when Hampstead Hill served as a defense against the British during the War of 1912. After a brief address, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, launched the restoration by smashing a champagne bottle against the pagoda's cantilevered ironwork, dousing himself in the process.

"Sit down, hon," said Virginia Baker to all who came to pay homage to her. The czaress of Baltimore recreation was dressed in a pink suit, a boutonniere made from a dyed blue carnation and baby's breath, a knit cap, ruffled white blouse and pearls. She sat in a special chair.

Baker had been up since 3 a.m. when she washed three blouses, wrote a letter to a friend from early park days, and then had her cereal.

Baker contemplated the pagoda, festooned with balloons bobbing in the sure wind. "To me it means a beautiful day in the park I love. Where my mother brought me on Sundays to sit on a bench -- there were hundreds of benches then. I used to put myself in charge of the [pagoda.] I got my training to be a leader then."

D8 Butchers Hill resident Joe Hauser, 34, a restoration

expert and contractor, is orchestrating the effort to rebuild the observatory. "Everybody's got to put in their share of work to keep the neighborhood stable," he says. With the assistance of Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City, Hauser recruited members of the iron workers, painters and operating engineers unions to work voluntarily on the restoration. The Ellicott City native is also scouting for "60 to 70 dedicated volunteers and a lot of drop-ins" to work on the pagoda under the supervision of construction experts.

The pagoda must be stripped down and repainted. Security and plumbing systems will be installed. Using a crane, the ironworkers will remove all of the pagoda's railings, originally constructed from scrap, and ship them out for repairs. Major roof and woodwork repairs are also scheduled. In addition, the American Society of Landscape Designers has contributed its own plans for restoration of the immediate pagoda grounds.

Despite the pagoda's centennial next year, this is not a rush job, Hauser says. "If someone can put one hour into it a week, but [otherwise has to work] to pay the mortgage, that's fine," he says.

D8 The Butchers Hill Association estimates that the ren

ovation project will cost $40,000, not counting volunteer hours. A city matching grant has already kicked in $10,000, and pagoda champions are now campaigning for private donations.

A major pagoda restoration project completed in 1965 cost $39,000. And in 1983, the pagoda was again restored with volunteer labor, ingenuity and quintessential Baltimore hoopla for about $49,000.

Scanty recorded history has made it difficult to study the Patterson Park Observatory's evolution as a Baltimore landmark. Even the pagoda's designer is open to question. Most pagoda students credit Charles Latrobe, general superintendent and engineer of Baltimore parks, because his name is on pagoda documents. Others see the pagoda as a signature work of George Aloysius Frederick, for three decades an architect for the Baltimore park commission, and designer of Baltimore City Hall.

For people like Katherine Goloway, 78, these are niggling questions. She had come by bus just to take in the day's festivities, and to remember the park as it was when she was a mother of two young children, who frolicked by the observatory every Sunday. "It was the best place to take children to play," she said.

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