Queen Of The Block Defends Her Bawdy, Tawdry Turf

November 24, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

ELDERSBURG — It happens every three or four years.

High-minded politicians, often seeking votes, trumpet plans to rid downtown Baltimore of the Block, its legendary -- if notorious -- adult entertainment district.

Opponents say the tawdry strip on East Baltimore Street is an outdated zone plagued by drugs, crime and pornography, which only hampers downtown economic growth.

Blaze Starr says she knows this recurring Block-bashing rhetoric well.

Long before she moved to Eldersburg and began selling her handmade jewelry at Carrolltowne Mall, Starrwas the striptease queen of the Block. She owned, operated and danced in the Two O'Clock Club, perhaps the city's most renowned burlesquebar.

Starr, whose 1950s affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl Long was depicted in the movie, "Blaze," has a vested interest in the Block's fate. She still owns the property where the Two O'Clock Club sits.

But the renewed effort to portray the Block as an immoral, outdated place did not phase her.

"That's what the politicians do every once in a while: get together and say they're going to get rid of the Block and put up more city office buildings," Starr said. "It's like a yo-yo -- clean today, bad next month."

The latest Block-eradication plan came in late June from Baltimore City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, D-3rd. He unveiled the bill with much fanfare, saying the Block "has outlived its usefulness . . . and has become a deterrentto further growth."

The Landers bill would amend the city's zoning code to ban adult entertainment from business and manufacturing zones. Strip joints and peep shows would be phased out over a three-yearperiod.

But the bill is all but dead.

The measure was introduced and sent out for study, but the council never scheduled a public hearing. The term of the council expires Dec. 2, and the measure will perish unless action is taken, which is considered unlikely. To come before the council again, the bill would have to be reintroduced nextyear by the new council.

As for Landers, he gave up his council seat in an unsuccessful campaign for the post of city comptroller in September.

The Block is safe for now, it appears, but Starr worriesabout its long-term survival. Aside from her business interest in the district, Starr retains a kinship to the Block.

A troubling portent came a few years ago when an office building was built next door to the Two O'Clock Club.

"It makes my little building look like a doghouse," she said Wednesday. "You can't stop progress, but I'd liketo see the Block stay there for a long time."

Far from being useless, Starr said, the Block is a link to an important part of Baltimore history.

"I think every city needs something like the Block," Starr said. "When men want to let off steam and go out and see partially nude girls, they can do that, and maybe it prevents them from molesting children, or raping or murdering."

Starr, a native of tiny Wilsondale, W.Va., concedes that the district is not immune from the urban scourges of drugs and crime. But she said the Block is milder in some ways today than it was in her time, when dancers could perform nude from the waist up. Today, law requires dancers to wear "pasties" on their breasts.

Moreover, some aspects of social culture rival what goes on along East Baltimore Street.

"(Nude dancing) is still kind of backward, or Dark Ages, to some," she said. "But, God, it comes in the home on the cable channels now. You can see pornographic movies on TV. I never though I'd see that day come."

Starr hasn't been to the Block for a few years. She goes to Baltimore every couple of months during daylight hours to shop and visit the Inner Harbor, but rarely cruises the Block.

"It's just the same on the Block during the day, without all the lights and signs on," she said with a smile.

"I wish it would stay around for ever."

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