A magazine for the city

Baltimore Glimpses

June 16, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

BALTIMORE magazine, with its circulation of more than 50,000 and a history going back to 1910, has been sold and a new editing staff installed as of this week.

You may know Baltimore for its famous "lists" -- the most powerful, the best-dressed, the most respected doctors and lawyers, the best restaurants. With its lists, the magazine liked to think it could tell us who we are by the way we rank as people, places and things.

But in the life of the magazine the lists have been only recent phenomena -- the last 10 to 15 years or so. For most of its life, until the 1960s, Baltimore was owned by, and published in the interest of, the city's Chamber of Commerce (known earlier as the Baltimore Association of Commerce). Its mission, serving its 10,000 subscribers, was a much more undisguised and unabashed boosterism than that displayed in the latter-day Baltimore.

Articles were published to support Baltimore and especially Baltimore business. They had such headlines as "Businessmen to View Industrial Sites," "Gas and Electric Company's Expansion" and "Chamber of Commerce Briefs." But times and tastes were changing, and there was a hunger for livelier editorial content.

The magazine accomplished that with the hiring in 1964 of William Stump. Mr. Stump surrounded himself with a talented group of writers and artists. Led by Wilbur VanSant, then president of the chamber, and with the support of Herbert C. Bailey, chamber director, Mr. Stump revamped the format and introduced exciting story ideas that brought Baltimore into prominence among "city" magazines. Stump's magazine also received an avalanche of awards.

"The cover of the issue before I took over featured huge, concrete pipes," Mr. Stump recalls. "I knew then that the magazine had no place to go but up."

And so it did, in readership and clout. But in February 1972, the chamber and Mr. Stump abruptly parted ways. Given the magazine's increasing prominence and Mr. Stump's identification with it, the separation was a disappointment to those in the press and community who follow such things.

Mr. Stump and the magazine's readers were having a fine time of it, but the chamber was not amused. Mr. Bailey told reporters that the chamber's philosophy of magazine publishing and that of its editor were "divergent." He cited certain articles that apparently had offended: a profile of Block stripper Blaze Starr, an article about the city's homosexual community. The magazine clearly was struggling to find a place somewhere between outright babbittry and lively and interesting journalism.

James F. Waesche was named the next editor, and he was succeeded 16 years ago by Stanley Heuisler. In mid-August 1977, the chamber sold the magazine to Phillip Merrill, publisher of the Annapolis Capital. Chris Hartman, then director of the chamber, commented, "We feel we simply no longer belong in the publishing business. We have other responsibilities."

He pointed out that Baltimore was a money loser -- $100,000 in 1974, $50,000 in 1975. The sale price was reportedly $85,000.

The first issue under the new ownership, in October 1977, looked more like the magazine of 1992. The lead article was "Know Your Place: A Status Guide for Local Neighborhoods." And with the November issue, Baltimore hit editorial stride with "The Most Powerful People in Town: Who Pulls the Strings and Who Doesn't."

And so it went through the '70s, '80s and into the '90s. In addition to lengthy stories the daily press would not or could not cover, Baltimore continued to rank everything in town from hamburgers to gynecologists. Its circulation grew, and it won a number of prestigious awards.

Now it has new owners, the sale price allegedly having been $4 million. No doubt the new editors will take Baltimore in new directions. One thing faithful readers can be fairly certain of: Baltimore isn't likely to return to "Businessmen to View Industrial Sites."

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