A Valentine to downtown

Baltimore Glimpses

February 09, 1993|By Gilbert Sandler

THE Downtown Partnership of Baltimore has hired 35 "public safety guides" to work the streets, starting March 1, as goodwill ambassadors and tour guides. They'll be joined by 28 "clean and sweep ambassadors," all part of an effort to spiff up the old city.

I'm all for it. Downtown Baltimore, for all its much publicized noise and traffic and panhandlers and crime, remains the undisputed nerve center of the area's business community. It is also the metropolitan area's cultural heart. Here's an early Valentine to downtown!

While it is true that many business deals are consummated in the business parks in Hunt Valley and elsewhere, when the really big chips are moving, they are moving across mahogany tables downtown.

Downtown carries with it the presence of the past. When you walk Charles Street, you walk where Pratt and Poe and Peabody and Walters walked. You pass the corners (Holliday and Baltimore, High and Fawn) where the kingmakers dealt: Theodore R. McKeldin and Howard W. Jackson, James ("Sonny") Mahon and Willie Curran. When you pass Liberty and Saratoga, you walk over the spot where Henry L. Mencken downed his oysters and quaffed down his first legal beer after repeal in the dining room of the old Rennert Hotel. You pass the old post office, where Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency of the United States.

You walk over the graves of the Emerson Hotel (longtime Democratic headquarters, where the b'hoys kept the cash in a bathtub), the Tower Building (with its tower clock and arcade of stores) and the Century and Valencia theaters. Downtown is the place where the giants walked the earth: Tommy D'Alesandro, Jack Pollack, Marie Baurenschmidt, and the "Three G's" -- Goodman, Grady and Graham.

It is also the place where the town characters greeted you on the streets: Abe Sherman, Melvin Perkins, Mr. Diz and Freddie Gold, who sold shopping bags outside the Lexington Market. And the nameless man who sold lavender at Charles and Lexington.

And downtown offers the charm of diversity, physical and spiritual, where white and black and rich and poor bring their ideas to the marketplace and sometimes exchange them for better ones. The merchant prince buys an orange from a street Arab; the beggar shares the bus ride with the broker.

And only when you work downtown can you come upon the Inner Harbor and see -- like a scene in "Brigadoon" -- the sea (well, the northwest branch of Patapsco River). Over there the sailboats play tag. The gulls line up on the piers, all facing the same direction. The Constellation is august in its berth. A new ship every week, bringing the world to downtown. (Last week, no kidding, it was the H.M.S. Battleax.)

Would anybody want to be anywhere else?

Happy Valentine's Day, downtown Baltimore.

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