A most spectacular Christmas window

Baltimore Glimpses

December 22, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

BALTIMOREANS recalling Christmases past get all excited talking about Christmas windows. They brightened the season in the old days, but the big windows have gone the way of the big department stores. No, they haven't. The big department stores have gone to the suburbs, and they haven't taken their Christmas windows with them.

The store windows of old-time Christmases were often quite sophisticated and ornate. Not only did trains move; so did angels' wings, sheep's tails and Cinderella's eyelashes. And the biggest show in town wasn't on department store row downtown; it was at North Avenue and Harford Road at Sears.

Sears opened its grand, five-story building at the former location of Samuel Ready School in the spring of 1938. The building will be remembered as an architectural oddity. Nimmons, Carr and Wright, the architects, designed a light gray building of molded concrete with no conventional windows. It was trimmed with polished black granite and with molded bronze setting off the doors and windows.

But that wasn't all about the place that made it architecturally memorable.

At the street intersection of North Avenue and Harford Road, the building's corner was flattened. Across its full width and to its full height, 40 feet by 40 feet, was a single display window claimed to be the largest in the world. Its plate glass was sectioned with bronze, and its center line depth (from window to back of window display area) was 25 feet.

No store in Baltimore then had a display window so magnificent. None does today (though the interiors of today's malls can be quite spectacular).

At Christmas time, Sears' window was to be seen. Charles S. DeLuca, who saw many of them, recalls, "Sears went all out with its decorations for the main show window. It even arranged to have carols piped out through the window." Everything that made up the Christmas display in that window seemed oversized: The tree was immense, taller than any tree of any retail display in the city. Santa and his sleigh were bigger than any Santa or any Santa sleigh; his helpers were the biggest elves in town.

And so on. Crowds came from all over the city to take in the spectacle.

Alas! "In time," says Mr. DeLuca, "the deterioration of the inner city, given impetus by the riots of the 1960s, caused Sears to brick up all of its windows." That most spectacular display window became a brick wall. And eventually Sears closed the North Avenue store. You can now go there to stand trial for speeding.

And today, you can see spectacular seasonal lights and colors in the malls, but it doesn't seem quite the same.

Merry Christmas from . . .

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