THE CITY FAIR, which began in 1970 as a vehicle for promoting city living and neighborhood pride, opens tomorrow in, at long last, a city neighborhood.
The fair's setting in Waverly -- specifically, the Venable lot adjacent to Eastern High School and across 33rd Street from Memorial Stadium -- marks the first time the three-day event has been held outside the environs of downtown.
In the eyes of many, it's about time.
"The City Fair has always had neighborhoods at its heart," says Mark Quackenbush, executive director of the fair that traditionally has provided a public platform for backyard boasting. "But this year they've become the focal point." He says some 60 neighborhood groups will be represented in exhibits under a central tent.
A no less critical part of the fair's history is its tradition of bringing attention to an area on the brink of development. With lTC the Orioles vacating Memorial Stadium this fall, the fate of the 33rd Street site is a critical concern, particularly to the surrounding community.
Earlier this week a consultant hired by the city to evaluate Memorial Stadium Task Force proposals recommended that both Eastern and the stadium be torn down and replaced with a combination of homes, office/retail space and park area.
"The genesis for the City Fair coming here [to Waverly] had to do with this being the stadium's last year, says Dave Miller, co-chairman of the Better Waverly Community Organization. "Waverly has always had an identity as the stadium area, and we would like to see whatever replaces the stadium give us a positive identity, too."
Miller's group is one of four neighborhood organizations serving as City Fair "hosts." The others are the Waverly Improvement Association, Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello Community Corp.
The four will share front row center in the neighborhood tent, where this year's theme, "Reach for the Stars," will focus on education as a means to success. Each neighborhood was asked to include in its exhibit the "stars" among its residents, says Quackenbush. "How each neighborhood interprets that theme is up to them," he says.
The Waverly Improvement Association plans to introduce its educational standouts -- "stars of the past, present and future" -- in person, says K.C. Docie, president of the group which represents Waverly north of 33rd Street. Among them will be a retired principal, a retired school librarian, local playwright Ken Hoke-Witherspoon -- "who just happens to live in the oldest house in Waverly" -- and several outstanding students in city schools.
While the neighborhoods are tooting their own horns at midway central, a fanfare of another sort can be heard elsewhere on the fairgrounds. A variety of carnival rides will stretch from 33rd Street south along the eastern side of the lot. On the opposite side of the fair, a family stage will feature youth-oriented entertainment all day long, including singing, dancing and a fashion show.
At the back of the festival site, fair-goers can take in jazz, R&B and reggae music in an outdoor cafe setting. Fair organizers chose to skip big-name talent this year in favor of local entertainers, says Quackenbush.
"We want people to know when they walk in that this is a Baltimore fair, and local acts reinforce that image," he says. He added that all the local performers are donating their time this year.
And the neighborhoods will have their own little stage of sorts -- a venue for the various community competitions that have become a tradition at the fair. This year look for bake-offs in chocolate chip cookies, cakes and, of course, apple pie.
Fair-goers can get a look at models of the various proposals for the stadium site in Future Park, an area offering a glimpse into Baltimore's future -- from recycling efforts to downtown buildings.
And lest baseball be forgotten on its own hallowed turf, a special section devoted to America's favorite pastime will entice visitors with a trading cards exhibit, a trivia contest sponsored by the Babe Ruth Birthplace and the sale of plenty of Orioles souvenirs.
City Fair schedule
12:00-1:30 T & T Baltimore Steel Orchestra
3:00-4:30 Wolfpack (Contemporary Classical Jazz)
5:00-6:30 Cubic Feet
6:30-8:00 THD (Progressive)
8:00-9:30 Experience Wheeler (Contemporary Jazz)
9:30-11:00 UPI (Pop/Soul)
1:00-2:00 Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre
2:00-3:30 Stop the Violence Movement (Various Acts)
3:30-4:30 Darryl Matarozza
4:30-6:00 Wild Geese (Irish Trio with Dancers)
6:00-7:00 Club Tempo (Rap)
12:00-1:00 James & Andre (Contemporary Classical Jazz)
1:30-3:00 Blast Paris (Progressive)
3:00-4:30 Shea Welch (Jazz Fusion)
5:00-6:30 Restored / Friends
6:30-8:00 Zebulon (Reggae)
8:00-9:30 Exit 17 (Jazz Fusion)
9:30-11:00 Fat Tuesday (New Orleans Funk /R & B /Blues)
12:00-1:00 Movement Unlimited (Children's Dance Group)
2:30-3:00 Visions (A Capella)
3:00-3:30 Internal Affairs, Girls Can Rock (Dance)
3:30-4:00 Mayhem (Rap)
4:00-5:00 Sheri Andrews (Vocalist)
5:00-6:00 Heartbeat Production (Fashion Show)
6:00-7:00 Liberia Association of Maryland (Dance Troupe)
9:30-11:00 B.U.M. (Baltimore Urban Movement)
1:30-2:30 The Singing Deacons (Gospel)
2:30-3:30 Restored (Gospel)
3:30-4:30 Hearsay (Progressive)
4:30-5:30 City Limits (Contemporary Jazz)
5:30-6:30 Future Now (Rap/Soul)
6:30-7:30 Cold Fusion (Jazz Fusion)
7:30-8:00 Gene Walker (Big Band Orchestra)
12:00-1:00 Latin American Dance Troupe
1:00-2:30 George Spicker
2:30-3:30 Bonda & First Love (Gospel)
3:30-5:00 Friends (Gospel))
5:00-6:00 Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre
6:00-7:00 True Affections
Jity Fair schedule is subject to change.Source:City Fair office