New Gayety marquee among spring blooms

Jacques Kelly

March 25, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

This winter's hibernation is over. Bright March days call for a rambling trip around old Baltimore to see what changes occurred over the winter. Here are a few observations and sightings. . . .

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The Gayety, The Block's classic 1906 burlesque house, is back with a new flashing, sparkling marquee. Baltimore Street's most famous landmark recently got a new projecting sign reminiscent of the 1920s. It's not a duplicate of the old "Gayety Burlesk" sign surmounted by the girl with neon flashing legs. This new sign is digital; it displays the time and advertisements.

The Gayety was hit by a fire in 1969 that ruined its famous auditorium and stage. Shops in the building that housed the theater and that fronted on Baltimore Street remained open during renovation, which has added a number of bars along the Custom House Alley side of the structure. While the Gayety is no longer a burlesque theater, the building has been preserved and put to new X-rated uses.

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Fells Point has a new gathering spot. The Daily Grind Coffee House opened in the 1700 block of Thames St., facing the harbor. Owner David Key compares his place to similar one he's seen in San Francisco. He says of his meeting place: "It's a nice place to loiter. Baltimore needs more places to loiter." Patrons enjoy varieties of coffee, munch on snacks and play chess and Scrabble. The coffeehouse also stays open late.

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Spring arrived early at Henderson's Wharf, the one-time Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tobacco warehouse in the 1000 block of Fell St. The interior of this massive masonry structure was gutted and a green garden planted in the atrium. The same style of street lamps are used here as now light Mount Vernon Place. They are based on a New York City version. There are 36 hotel rooms, apartments and a marina here.

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New downtown clocks have been installed. A large clock was attached to the facade of the new Legal Aid building, Gay and Lexington streets. And a large, four-sided clock tower was placed atop Camden Station earlier this month. It's unfortunate the faces of the Camden clocks were not as well designed as they should have been. It's a marvelous tower, but the clocks look like a cheap drugstore watch.

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The Berea Seventh Day Adventist Temple is an outstanding northwest Baltimore landmark (ca. 1890-91) at Madison Avenue and Robert Street. The scaffolding is now up on its twin towers (they resemble Eastern-style minarets) as the congregation undertakes a massive preservation effort.

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Construction workers have put a new roof on the historic Orchard Street Methodist Church in Seton Hill. The Baltimore Urban League is overseeing renovation of this important site of black history.

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New dormitories are rising at McMechen and John streets for the Maryland Institute College of Art in upper Bolton Hill. For far too many years, this site has remained vacant. (An urban renewal program razed the original homes here.) The new dorms are of a dark red brick, resembling the splendid homes nearby.

Several other long-time vacant lots are getting new structures. The University of Baltimore's new business school is rising fast at Mount Royal Avenue and Charles Street, the site of the old Arundel Hotel.

Two blocks south, the steel framing for a new Mercantile Bank and Trust Company uptown branch is being completed. WCAO's studios were once here before the northwest corner of Charles and Chase streets became a parking lot in the early 1960s. The steel's also up on the state's Library for the Blind at Franklin Street and Park Avenue.

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Farther downtown, Commerce Place at Baltimore and South streets, a tremendous office structure, seems to move closer to completion by the day. The new Veterans Administration Hospital, adjoining the University of Maryland Medical Center, is also being wrapped up, with a --ing black and orange facade.

You can't miss the new banners up at the B&O Railroad Museum, Pratt and Poppleton streets. The vintage freight train, with its red caboose, makes an excellent outdoor display.

And how about those electric blue light-rail station railings and ticket machines? The first for-pay rides begin at noon, April 3, Timonium to Camden Station.

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