Stadium offers view of yesterday


April 02, 1992|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Staff Writer

On a clear day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, you can see Catonsville. Or Dundalk. Or the Washington Monument.

Oriole Park's concourses have been designed like open porches that overlook a 19th-century city.

The Ridgely's Delight neighborhood sits in the foreground, off the stadium's third-base side. It's a neighborhood of brick chimneys, sloping roofs, skylights and 14-foot-wide rowhouses constructed when Andrew Jackson was president. The narrow street patterns lend an idea of what the ballpark site itself was -- another close-quarters district of funeral parlors, bars, ship chandlers and the Sexton cast-iron stove factory.

Streets have come and gone here. Elbow Lane meandered through what is now center field. Burgundy and Welcome alleys were once jam-packed with houses and families.

The new ball park's open walks serve as an informal observation deck.

One of the principal landmarks visible is the yellow cupola atop the 1884 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's passenger car shops, today a large railroad museum at Pratt and Poppleton streets. The B&O, of course, was once Baltimore's largest employer, and the railroad's steam whistles summoned the neighborhood to work. On the Sabbath, the tower bells in the old Catholic parishes of West and southwest Baltimore called them to pray.

Oriole Park gives an unexpected lesson in Baltimore's religious history.

All over the southwest Baltimore cityscape, towers and steeples pop up above the omnipresent asphalt rooftops. The short tower and gray stone walls of St. Jerome's Church, on Scott Street, are a Pigtown landmark. The brick campanile of St. Peter the Apostle Church, a 150-year-old parish, shines in a new paint job. The twin towers of Fourteen Holy Martyrs Church, at Lombard and Mount streets, look transplanted from southern Germany. The church was a great favorite of its long-time neighbor, H.L. Mencken.

St. Martin's stands on a Fulton Avenue hill. The ivory tower top of St. Joseph's Monastery marks Irvington. The eccentric orange brick walls and tall belfry immediately identify St. Benedict's Church on Wilkens Avenue. In the far distance, the massive facade of the Mount De Sales Academy of the Visitation at Catonsville lords over the landscape. It's a long way off, but amazingly clear.

The ancient trees -- now only in early bud -- haven't obscured the elegant Mount Clare Mansion in Carroll Park. The old United Railways and Electric Company's Carroll Park shops, now a sprawling Mass Transit Administration bus barn, stand alongside the white masonry bulk of the Montgomery Ward & Co. clearance outlet on South Monroe Street.

Highways bend, twist and circle around Oriole Park's southern flank. The redevelopment of Camden Yards did not do away with the rail traffic that has been a part of the life here for nearly 150 years.

The upper levels of Oriole Park provide a good sightseeing spot for CSX (successor to the old B&O) freight trains as they exit and enter the Howard Street Tunnel. MARC commuter trains still call at Camden Station, as will the new Central Light Rail Line. Its right-of-way charges off in the direction of the Patapsco River's Middle Branch.

The ballpark's open walks also afford generous glimpses into South Baltimore, where immigrants competed in building fine churches and tall steeples.

Sts. Stephen and James' Lutheran Church on Hanover Street points toward the heavens. West Street's Holy Cross Church possesses the neighborhood's tallest spire, a pencil point-sharp Gothic steeple. Then there's St. Mary's Star of the Sea, which will be the dominant night attraction, its tower topped by a blue electric light. This light on Riverside Avenue has guided harbor mariners home since 1890.

In the far distance, the steel structural members of the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge arch over the scene.

One of South Baltimore's enduring visions is the set of circular gas holders at Spring Gardens. When its neighbor, the Knabe piano factory (later Maryland Cup Corp.) was razed for sports parking, the music house's signature rooftop cupola was lifted off and preserved. It now sits atop a cabinet-making business in the 1200 block of S. Howard St.

When ball fans take their seats, the dominant view atop the scoreboard is of the west side of downtown -- primarily the landmark 1911 Bromo-Seltzer Tower and its Seth Thomas clock. This building could become an architectural visual symbol, the part of the skyline Oriole Park patrons will most often recall.

Fans in the topmost upper deck are in for one last visual surprise.

As they climb to the heights of Oriole Park, they'll spot the famous George Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place. It seems the Father of Our Country also has a lofty view of the new ballpark.

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