In '91, an uptown, downsized, friendly City Fair

Jacques Kelly

July 29, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

Mark Quackenbush was present at the birth of the first City Fair. He was a 16-year-old go-fer who carried the chicken salad sandwiches to the people who created this trade show/carnival of city neighborhoods.

Quackenbush, 37, today is executive director of the City Fair, a role his mother, Hope Quackenbush once held. Before she became chief of the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre and Pier Six Concert Pavilion, she dreamed up the annual Baltimore showcase.

During the summer of 1970, Mark Quackenbush was a teen-ager whose summer job was errand boy for the untested, untried and unknown City Fair.

"I used to take the orders and run across Charles Street to the Snackery sandwich shop," he said the other day. "The City Fair office was in the Benson Building at Charles and Franklin."

The big change for this year's fair is its location, the first non-downtown City Fair. It's to be staged at the Venable parking lot at Ellerslie Avenue and 33rd Street, adjacent to the former Eastern High School and across the way from Memorial Stadium.

The uptown location is designed to coincide with the Orioles playing out their last games on 33rd Street before the team's move to new quarters in Camden Yards. Orioles-Memorial Stadium nostalgia should be cresting by the time City Fair arrives the weekend of Sept. 20. There's no home game that weekend to bedevil traffic patterns.

The fair site sits in the center of Waverly and near the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello communities.

"The fair is coming back to the neighborhoods," Quackenbush said. "And we're downsizing. It's not our intention to make the cover of Newsweek magazine. We're looking for 35,000 people a day."

Quackenbush hopes the fair will regain some of low-key, friendly charm the fairs of the 1970s enjoyed. And he is assuming that some Oriole magic also will rub off on the event. The Babe Ruth Museum is planning an exhibit, and it's a sure bet that souvenir vendors will be hawking Memorial Stadium T-shirts all along 33rd Street.

Plans also call for the fair to underscore education in the city. Quackenbush has invited all the new top brass of the city Department of Education to be at the event to shake hands with fairgoers. There also will be an area for arts and culture in the city and a section for Baltimore of the future -- with models of the Columbus Center, the HarborView apartments and marina and the new baseball stadium.

But if the fair is not stretched all over downtown, Quackenbush wants to strengthen neighborhood participation.

"I will find a way to house every neighborhood that comes into the fair," he said. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has agreed to underwrite the cost associated with the large tent where the communities set up their photographs, trays of homemade cupcakes and potholders.

There'll also be jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and other musical entertainment as well as the midway of amusement rides.

Quackenbush seems to enjoy the logistical challenge of building the miniature fair empire on a slab of parking lot asphalt.

He spent six years in the Navy, much of that time in cryptology andintelligence work. After that, he was with Texas Instruments and found time to play drums in jazz and rock groups, where he also learned the art of outdoor sound engineering.

Because he knew how to amplify sound, he qualified as a sound engineer for the city's Office of Promotion and Tourism. He's logged many hours at previous City Fairs and ethnic festivals.

Quackenbush now resides in a home "on one of the hairpin road turns" in the cozy mill village of Oella with his wife and young family.

He hopes that City Fair 1991 visitors will look around and survey the stadium neighborhoods with a realistic eye toward the changes that will come after the team leaves and some new use is found for the ballpark that's given Baltimoreans 40 years of memories.

"Compared to the biggest fairs, this one won't be that big," Quackenbush said. "We're putting it back on a human scale."

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