Pier sign shines in Fells Point Relighting ends 20 years in dark

November 13, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The glow of 410 light bulbs shining through a hard harbor rain had Virginia Baker jubilant last night.

"Wow!" said the 71-year-old champion of fun and games in

Baltimore when the lights went on at 7:15 p.m. "My heart's dancing."

Alone, each bulb burned no brighter than 11 watts. But together, they formed the words "CITY PIER BROADWAY," a legend once bright over Fells Point, but dark for almost 20 years.

The sign hangs on the back of the Broadway Recreation Pier, where it first beckoned sailors and harbor travelers in 1914.

Miss Baker, head of the city's Department of Adventures In Fun, decided years ago that the sign which brought her comfort in childhood would one day shine again.

"When I was a little kid, mama would take us down the bay for billy goat rides," she said. "And when I saw that sign coming home at night, I felt peace, I knew I was home."

By last summer, only seven bulbs were working.

Replacing them wasn't the problem.

The cost came to a little more than $200, all of it funded with donations from neighbors and local businesses.

What had the city stymied was a cheap way to install them.

Officials didn't want to spend the money to erect scaffolding and it was considered too dangerous to use ladders to reach signs that hang some 50 feet above the playground.

"People told us it was impossible, that you couldn't do it," Miss Baker said on the roof of the pier last night with about 30 neighbors and supporters.

"I said, 'If they went in one time, they can go in two times.' "

Miss Baker's wish to have the sign fixed spread around town and Troy Higgs, a man who had never even seen the Recreation Pier, came forward to help her.

Mr. Higgs owns Visual Sensations, a local window-washing business.

Hanging over the side of big buildings is an everyday thing for him.

"I looked at the building and what the community wanted to do," he explained last night. "And I said, 'Hey, I can do that.' "

He used mountain climbing equipment to suspend himself and local sea dog Stephens Bunker from the roof of the pier.

And he did it for free.

The first night they worked on the sign, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Bunker screwed in all the bulbs for the "B" and "R" in BROADWAY and the "C" and "I" in CITY.

"When we were done, we said, 'Let's light this thing up,' " said Mr. Bunker, who was lowered down from the roof by his ankles a few months earlier to unscrew one of the old bulbs. "We didn't light it up again until we were finished."

Still, five bulbs remained dark last night, the victims of bad sockets.

"OK, that's great," said Miss Baker, getting out of the rain after admiring the sign for a few moments.

"Now we can get to work on our next job."

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