Druid Hill Park's gazebos get spruced up for spring

JACQUES KELLY

March 12, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Peek through Druid Hill Park's leafless trees and it is not hard to see the housecleaning that its vintage Victorian summerhouses and picnic pavilions are now getting.

Painters and carpenters are at work on seven of the park's picturesque gazebos, putting on new roofs and painting on new colors.

The largest project will entail disassembling and moving the old Chinese Pavilion, now at Fulton and Druid Hill avenues, to a greener and quieter home just off the park's Madison Avenue entrance.

The one-time trolley station will return to its original 1860s color scheme of Chinese red, yellow and dark green.

It also will get a new metal roof that will resemble its original standing-seam model.

"It was ready to crumble over," says Michal Makarovich, secretary of the newly formed Auchentoroly Terrace Association. thrilled it's getting that attention. I was sure that one day it was just going to be bulldozed.

"Tons of people use Druid Hill Park and I'm delighted the tradition of appreciating it continues. Our parents took us there for Easter Sunday in the 1950s. This was the place to come. I have pictures of my sister there," he says.

Makarovich's home is several blocks north of the fanciful Chinese Pavilion, one of the park's greatest surviving architectural embellishments.

When built, the open-air pavilion was strictly functional, serving as a station for mass transit. Its roof, supported by fancy cast-iron columns, shaded summertime visitors.

Over the years, thousands of people waited here for a horsecar or electric streetcars.

The pavilion functioned as the transfer point to Druid Hill Park's own small-scale steam railroad of the 1860s and '70s.

Baltimore architects Anshen & Allen are overseeing today's make-over of the pavilion, which includes the renovation of three large octagonal buildings where people picnicked.

They are getting new roofs, and damaged interior structural members are being strengthened.

Various historic preservation agencies decreed that the colors violet, green, cream and red will be the new look.

The Sun Dial Pavilion and a pair of smaller gazebos are also being reconditioned.

As a separate venture, three new greenhouses are to be built in the rear of the Conservatory, the glass landmark facing the western edge of the park.

The Chinese Pavilion was the architectural confection of George Aloysius Frederick, the architect who designed City Hall, St. James the Less Catholic Church and other fine Baltimore structures of the mid-Victorian period. Frederick festooned the park with picturesque pavilions, way stations and summerhouses.

His Druid Hill Park bandstand, a Moorish pavilion with a turnip-shaped roof, sheltered the ensembles that played the music of Victor Herbert and the marches of John Philip Sousa on humid July nights. Sadly, the bandstand was demolished in the 1950s.

The Chinese Pavilion nearly wound up on the scrap heap, too. Highway engineers enlarged roads here to the point that the asphalt cut dangerously close to the pavilion's east side. Then park patrons stopped using this area when it became buffeted by noise and auto pollution.

There were times when the park's little railway was a victim of its own success. On Sunday evening, June 23, 1872, Christina Thorpe, 22, a passenger on one of the open-air wooden cars, was badly burned when a spark from the locomotive ignited her lightweight dress.

The park had been heavily used that day. The Sun's account says the train was "packed like a herring."

Thorpe panicked as the flames engulfed her dress. She jumped off the car and ran for the woods. A number of men went to her assistance, but pandemonium ruled.

"What amount of bruising and burning up of uncomplaining people is required before the moderate taxpayers, who cannot afford carriages . . . may be permitted to get a few hours of . . . country air?" noted a letter in The Sun a few days later.

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