Among the very last of a unique line

Jacques Kelly

August 03, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

The bankers and lawyers who -- from the Fidelity Building's elevators address him "Mr. Stine" or "Arthur."

The soft-spoken Arthur Stine is among the very last of the city's career elevator operators.

"When I came here, we were called elevator attendants," said Mr. Stine, who will retire this month after nearly 40 years of listening to the sounds of elevator chimes, closing metal doors and whirring motors. "Now we're all security staff."

Outfitted in a blazer, shirt and tie, Mr. Stine spends his work days in the ornate marble lobby of the Charles Street headquarters of Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland. The building is an 1890s landmark, one of the city's oldest surviving skyscrapers at the northwest corner of Charles and Lexington streets.

It's served by six bronze-trimmed elevators (Westinghouse Selectromatics) that call on each of its 15 floors and penthouse. There's also a private, high-security elevator in another part of the granite structure that serves a former Maryland National Bank branch. Stock brokers and security traders used this car to run their negotiable documents to the bank vault.

After a stint at the old Mercantile Building, Arthur Stine came to the Fidelity in August 1964 and was assigned to No. 6, the "freight car." In time, he made chief elevator operator, a position that was later merged into the building's security department. His bosses admired his unerring attention to detail.

He's known along Charles Street as a man who seems to know everybody's name. And though he has a driver's license and occasionally rents a car, he usually walks all over Baltimore. And it's been on these walking tours that Mr. Stine has earned his laurels as a non-elected civic watchdog.

He's a self-appointed, persistent protector of Baltimore architecture. From Seton Hill to Fells Point, he backs the often-losing side of a cause to save an unloved old rowhouse or a factory, church or office building.

He fights the good fight through phone calls, letters to the editor and attendance at public meetings. He's well known to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mary Pat Clarke and 1st District City Council members. He'll often just go up to somebody important and start talking.

He directs much of his energy toward Fells Point, his home neighborhood, where he bought an ancient house for $1,200 in 1969. "It had a privy and an old wash shed out back," Mr. Stine said. "It was all falling in, but I liked Fells Point better when it was slums. It's gotten so commercial, so honky tonk. I miss the old Polish people who used to live there, too. They were much easier to get along with than this new crowd."

Old Fells Point reminds him of Frederick, the city he first saw as a child. He grew up on a farm near Jefferson (the second of seven sons) and early on developed an affinity for architectural styles and construction methods.

"I still write letters to the Frederick News Post," he said. "There's too much development up there too. People sometimes get mad at me for writing these things."

He's not all negative. "Look at how nice Federal Hill looks today, Otterbein and Stirling Street too," he said. "The city once wanted to tear all of them down."

Mr. Stine, a bachelor, plans to spend his retirement working in his garden, now growing on the site of the old privy and wash house. He'll have more time to write letters too.

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