PHILADELPHIA offers a cautionary tale to Marylanders who...


June 20, 1992

PHILADELPHIA offers a cautionary tale to Marylanders who might get overzealous in the preservation of historic landmarks.

The point is that some landmarks aren't historic and, if they are, aren't worth preserving.

The old state penitentiary at 22nd and Fairmount Avenues in Philadelphia is a case in point. A huge gray-granite walled and turreted fortress, the abandoned structure covers an entire city block and, in our view, blights an entire neighborhood that is trying to raise itself out of slum status.

Yet it cannot be torn down even if it were physically possible to do so short of the detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

As a historic structure, duly designated and approved, it just sits there, brooding and ugly. A garden group, desperate for prettification, has planted bulbs on a ledge slight above the line of sight on the Fairmount Avenue side. We hope that some flowers tall enough to be remotely visible will bloom. What is happening inside the fortress is left to the imagination. It must be great for rats.

Right across the street from the old pen is a firehouse that has been turned into a chi-chi restaurant, one of several in the gentrifying neighborhood. But nothing will really help until the preservationists retreat, the pen is torn down and a nice green park is landscaped. The argument that later generations must have a visible reminder of the barbarity of early U.S. prisons just doesn't historically register with this department.

* * *

A WASHINGTON newspaper recently ran an ad for a new brand of beer named after the late, lamented (by some), lamentable (to most) Washington Senators baseball team.

This has to be the goofiest idea for a commercial product since the salad spinner. We don't know about the quality of the beer itself, since we have yet to quaff a sample of the new brew, but we have serious doubts about naming a beer after one of the worst franchises in the history of major league ball.

Presumably baseball die-hards, especially those in Washington, are going sigh with nostalgic pleasure over a beer named after the sad-sack Senators. But then what? A beer named Edsel for car enthusiasts? Another called Hindenburg for dirigible hobbyists? How about one called Mrs. O'Leary's Cow just for dairy farmers?

Another question: What should we say when ordering the beer at our favorite watering hole?

"Hey, bartender! Set me up with a frosty bottle of Washington Senators!" Or, "Say, bar-keep! Make mine a Nats!"

Catchy, huh? Besides, the latter nickname might be confused with National Bohemian, or Natty Boh, a brew long associated with a ball club closer to our turf, a team with a long history and a proud record deserving of honor on a beer label.

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