Plan would let Camden Station shine

JACQUES KELLY

July 28, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

At last, a sound idea has surfaced for the fate of Camden Station.

This important mid-1850s Baltimore landmark is now being studied as a potential baseball shrine and sports museum by the Babe Ruth Museum, the Baltimore Orioles Museum, the Maryland Baseball Hall of Fame and the newly formed Babe Ruth League Hall of Fame.

That is just the ticket for one of the city's treasures of architecture and history. The venerable terminal has sat empty, without a purpose.

The odd thing about Camden Station is that it is not an endangered building. The Maryland Stadium Authority, which built Oriole Park at Camden Yards next door, paid $2.2 million to restore the station's exterior. Today, its bricks are repointed. There is a good roof. There's glass in the windows.

The authority did a "verbatim" re-creation of the station's clock tower and a pair of side cupolas in aluminum and fiberglass. All the cornice work and elaborate Victorian woodwork was restored as well. The interior was left as is, a good deal rougher than the day in the 1980s when it closed as a commuter rail station.

The station today stands as a restored pavilion, with two full floors of usable exhibition space.

Its value as a showcase for baseball history was demonstrated during the events of All-Star Week.

The old station was cosmetically spruced up so that vendors could sell their posters, T-shirts and sports memorabilia. Many people winced when they spotted a Coca-Cola emblem being mounted on a prominent Camden Station brick wall, but it did call attention to the site and its potential.

Using Camden Station as a temporary exhibit hall for FanFest displayed how naturally the old structure lends itself to this type of use. That usage also seemed to address one of the unanswered riddles of Camden Yards: What should be done with the old railway station?

Camden Station was once the busiest rail terminal in Baltimore. It was both the corporate headquarters of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as well as this city's gateway to Washington, D.C., and the West. It was the place where Abraham Lincoln's funeral train pulled into Baltimore. It was the station that welcomed many delegates to the political convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson in 1912. It has long been the sentimental favorite of many a railroad buff.

Many people mistakenly believe that trains no longer operate here. On all business days of the year, 14 passenger trains enter and exit a new platform built as part of the Camden Yards redevelopment project.

Added to this, a light rail train stops here every 15 minutes. A small ticket office and station now serves passengers about a block south of the old main station.

Anyone who doubts that the Camden Yards area is no longer a thriving rail hub had only visit the spot when there's a ball game and fans arrive by light rail and MARC trains. Much railroad freight traffic also travels through the area, hidden in the Howard Street Tunnel.

If you doubt it, listen for the whistles.

The popular success of Oriole Park seems to require that the old station be made into a permanent year-round sports attraction.

On a frosty November afternoon, visitors are still pressing their noses through the iron gates of Oriole Park. The stretch of South Eutaw Street adjacent to the bleachers has some sightseers on almost any day of the year.

The popular affection for Camden Yards is enough to convince the most skeptical of Baltimoreans, possibly even the ones who still feel that Memorial Stadium was not a bad place to watch a ball game.

When the Orioles came back to Baltimore in 1954, they arrived by train from the season opener in Detroit.

Where did the team get off the train? Camden Station.

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