City's 'decked out' for July Fourth


July 03, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

Has all the timber in the Carolinas sprouted through the asphalt roofs of Federal Hill and Fells Point?

The wooden decks, designed to catch the sun's rays and soft summer breezes and to provide views of the harbor, have their big night July Fourth. These perches are the preferred place from which to view the Inner Harbor fireworks show.

In dozens of South and southeast Baltimore households, friends assemble for rooftop deck parties. They climb flights of steps to reach a spot known only to installers of television antennas, chimney sweeps and Santa Claus.

The traditional Baltimore rowhouse roof -- long, flat and sloping .. from front to back, will accommodate a good-sized deck. Even the smallest of 1810 alley houses usually has space for a wooden aerie, even if it has to be buttressed and cantilevered with a substructure resembling the underpinning of the Eiffel Tower.

If sufficiently set back from the street, the deck affords privacy from all but helicopters and curious egrets.

Decks began to come into their own in the 1970s, when a handful went up in Federal Hill and Fells Point, as the harbor was changing from a working waterfront to a recreational site.

Soon people were "putting a deck on" in the same way that earlier eras were enamored of club cellars, aluminum siding, patios and Formstone. The dealers in pressure-treated lumber smiled. So did the carpenters, nail salesmen and tax assessors.

Decks become social gathering points in the warm-weather months. On the night of July Fourth, they acquire the status of luxury skyboxes in sports stadiums.

One Sharp Street resident so aptly calls them "playpens in the sky."

Last July Fourth, a particularly hot night, the Inner Harbor seemed to smash all attendance records. You couldn't move on the promenades. Forget Federal Hill Park or Rash Field. Traffic was so intense people were even taking the subway. The harbor filled up with all manner of sailing craft -- perhaps the very best place of all from which to watch the show.

Real estate agents hoping to sell expensive Boston Street condos held their own July Fourth parties to coax prospective customers to sign a sales contract. These get-togethers were staged on roofs or any high roosts that give good views of the Inner Harbor. I wonder how many people decide to move here -- or away -- based on these gatherings?

All the climbing and effort it can take to view the harbor show is worth it. Just the sight of all those little boats, with their running lights on, bobbing in the water, would make the Founding Fathers proud. There is also the informal (and illegal) show of neighborhood fireworks. All night long, Roman candles, fire fountains, cherry bombs, spit fires and flower pots exploded around the pointed steeples of St. Mary's Star of the Sea and Holy Cross churches.

In East Baltimore, the fireworks begin tonight at midnight in Patterson Park, after concerts of the Municipal and Archbishop Curley High School bands. The Patterson Park show of pyrotechnics makes a point of proving that it is the first show of fireworks July Fourth, as its midnight bang ushers in the holiday.

Decks are at a premium in these parts as well. And a number of people will assemble on July Fourth evening on a real deck -- that of the John Brown, the World War II-vintage Liberty Ship anchored at Pier One in Canton. For a $10 fee admission -- used to help restore the vessel -- visitors can watch the fireworks from a swaying wooden deck.

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