Most callers say the crab is a bad idea

March 16, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Some people like crabs, and some don't.

What applies to popular tastes in seafood also holds true of people's opinions about urban parks, judging from the responses to a Sundial telephone survey that asked readers to vote whether the city should build a giant crab-shaped sculpture on Baltimore's Rash Field.

Blue Crab Park -- a grass-covered bas relief made of earth mounds, sculpted so viewers would be able to make out the crab only when standing atop Federal Hill -- is one of several components of a $7.5 million make-over proposed for the Inner Harbor shoreline.

It was recommended by a design team that won a national competition held to generate ideas for waterfront improvements in time for Baltimore's Bicentennial in 1997.

Although it is negotiating to hire the designers, the Schmoke administration has not endorsed the proposal for Blue Crab Park. Redevelopment officials plan to meet with community groups and others before deciding exactly what to build.

Of 103 callers who voiced an opinion on the Sundial line, 66 were against Blue Crab Park, and 37 were in favor of it.

Opponents said it would be tacky, impractical and a waste of money.

"I've heard some ridiculous things for the city to spend money on, but that is absolutely the worst," said Ed Miller, a retired contractor.

It's "the kind of thing the insufferable David Letterman would mock on his show," said graduate student George Owens.

"No one is going to come from anywhere -- San Francisco, Japan, anywhere -- to see crab mounds," said Dan Gainor, an editor who lives in Otterbein. "It's like the city went out and tried to pick the dumbest design possible."

Pat Reilly, a Federal Hill resident who works at Mercy Hospital, said the Crab has been a hot topic in her neighborhood. "Personally, I think it's tacky, gimmicky, certainly not a cultural asset," she said. "Most of my neighbors at a dinner party thought that it was in very poor taste -- certainly not putting Baltimore's best foot forward."

Jerry Maynard, a retired banker who lives in Phoenix, Md., said he believes the Crab, if it isn't "a perfect April Fool's joke," would be a political liability for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. He said it gives City Council president Mary Pat Clarke a slogan to use when she runs for mayor against Mr. Schmoke: "Vote for Clarke and Don't Have a Crab."

The Crab was proposed by a team headed by Boston landscape architect Martha Schwartz and Design Collective Inc. of Baltimore. They said the crab is a symbol of Baltimore and Maryland and should be celebrated. They also suggested the city install custom street lamps with translucent blue crabs on top and create a "Crab Walk" along Conway Street, to link Harborplace and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Many callers liked the Crab as much as the opponents disliked it.

"I love the Crab. I think it's wonderful," said Joan O'Brien, a computer specialist who lives near Belvedere Square. "Rash Field is really an unused part of the Inner Harbor. The Crab really would be very cool. It would go along with the 'Welcome to Baltimore, Hon' sign that I hope is going to be up soon."

Kerry Swancy, a homemaker in Ellicott City, is another fan. "I think it brings a lot to Baltimore. It is a step ahead of everyone else," she said.

"It's an excellent idea," said Bernie Glendon, a grocery store employee who lives near Herring Run Park. "I live in the city, and I wouldn't mind my taxes going to pay for it. I feel it would have an immediate benefit."

Jeffrey Mose, director of development for the Pride of Baltimore, is one of several callers who expressed concern about the fate of the Pride memorial on Rash Field. It was erected to honor the four crew members who died when the original Pride sank in 1986.

"Will it be maintained at the present location? Will it be relocated somewhere else at the Inner Harbor?" Mr. Mose asked. "This is of concern not only to me, but to several callers that we've had."

The designers of Blue Crab Park suggested that the Pride memorial be moved to a more prominent spot closer to the Science Center.

Mr. Mose said he would not object to the idea of moving the memorial "as long as it stays in the Inner Harbor. Those people literally gave their lives for the city and the state."

Donna Ledwin, athletic director of the College of Notre Dame, said she would be against any change that disturbs the Pride memorial. "I think that would be an absolute desecration of these people's memories."

The design proposal has also triggered other suggestions.

Mr. Maynard, the retired banker, said he believes the city should take a hint from the popularity of the Inner Harbor ice rink and build a more permanent indoor ice rink that could be used as a roller skating rink in warm weather. The Crab, he said, is just "an undulating hunk of dirt. The property deserves a lot better use."

Stan Modesky, owner of a book store in Fells Point, said he believes that improvements to the harbor shoreline should reflect "our participation in the War of 1812, our shipbuilding and shipping history or industrial heritage. Anything less is an insult to the memories of the working people of Baltimore. The blue crab doesn't represent anything in particular about Baltimore. Certainly nothing important enough for it to become a major motif at Rash Field."

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