You can't always see yesterday's sparkle for all the tarnish

THIS JUST IN ...

January 07, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

A few weeks ago, a man from Brooklandville, in Baltimore County, mentioned that he had grown up on Barclay Street, in Baltimore City. He said his parents once had a rowhouse on Barclay, in one of the blocks just above North Avenue. "I don't go back there," the man added quickly and quietly. "Too sad."

One of modern life's saddest contemplations is the imagining of the golden yesterday of a city neighborhood -- even if you didn't grow up in one. It's painful to attempt to see, in the skeletal remains of shops and houses, the full body and spirit of a once-thriving community.

In some places, however, the effort is futile. Take the 900 block of Whitelock Street in Reservoir Hill. I was there again yesterday, squinting as hard as I could and summoning from memory the delightful images Barry Levinson presented in "Avalon." But even all that contrivance could not stir awake Whitelock Street's golden yesterday. It was impossible to imagine the place clean, safe and pleasant.

For many years, it has been one of the busiest drug corridors in the city. The old commercial strip is one of the bleakest around. Speculative talk about tearing down the buildings has turned into a municipal plan. "I'm surprised the bulldozer isn't here yet," says Tom Composto, who runs the St. Francis Neighborhood Center.

He arrived on Whitelock Street as a young Jesuit priest in 1968, hoping to change the world a little. He still has a place for prayer, Bible study and counseling. "And healing," Composto says. "A lot of people come here for healing." His longtime comrade, John Taylor, operates a dental clinic for the poor. The St. Francis Neighborhood Center, still dressed in Christmas decorations, looks like the block's last glimmer of hope.

"This is a church," Composto says. "The people who live here look to us for hope, as the only institution that has stayed. I'd like see St. Francis as the hub of the new development, but I don't know if that's going to happen." The city wants to tear down the block and start over. OK. But it wouldn't hurt to spare a place of prayer and healing. Baltimore needs a lot of both.

'Birdland': Get a doctor!

For John Rothman's sake, I hope the people producing "Birdland" on ABC-TV get some new script writers. The first episode of the one-hour drama aired Wednesday night at 10 with Rothman, a Baltimore native, playing the budget-stressed administrator of a California hospital. We didn't see much of Rothman -- Brian Dennehey has the lead role, after all -- John seemed to handle his brief appearances well. Unfortunately, the story was lame, the dialogue was bland, and the writers completely under-used the talents of Dennehey and guest star John Savage. . . . If you want good hospital drama -- or just a way to avoid local TV news -- MPT has "St. Elsewhere" reruns nightly at 11.

She was driven to it

Ingmar Berger, our Remington correspondent, reports that a woman named Millie, freshly transplanted to Baltimore from New York City, keeps a sign in the window of her car: "No Radio, Nothing In Trunk." That sign, supposedly a deterrent to car thefts and burglaries, is displayed commonly in the Big Apple -- it's such a New York thing -- but we haven't seen it much in Baltimore.

Ingmar asked Millie if she planned on removing the sign, now that she resides in Charm City. "No way," she says. "It's a great way to meet guys at stop lights."

A stretch, indeed

Robin Miller, who runs On-Time Sedan Service, was driving his company's biggest stretch limousine when he stopped at a red light at Charles and Conway. "One of those 'Will Work For Food' guys came over to me," Miller says.

"I started to mumble my usual 'get-a-job' response, and he says, 'No, I don't want your money. My friend is getting married and I want to get him a limo for his wedding. I've seen you guys around. That's a nice-looking car. You got a card?' "

Art has a leg to stand on

In our quest for tackiana, the outlandishly weird and/or cheap objects that adorn modern society, we have discovered the bone art of Lydia Brown, and it is a magnificent discovery.

"In the early '70s, when I was in my 50s, I thought it was art," Lydia says. "Now, at the age of 71, I've decided it can't be anything but tackiana."

She has about 15 examples of bone art, a veritable menagerie, in her china closet. They were constructed from turkey, ham, duck, and cow bones.

Her most stunning piece might be the camel, made from ham and turkey bones and a cow's ankle bone. "Skeptics said 20 years ago that the bones would crumble to dust," Lydia says. "They were wrong!" Good for us that they were.

If you're willing to share a bit of tackiana, write to This Just In, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. The phone number is 332-6166.

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