Trainer can tell the hidden tales about old Pimlico

May 19, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

There ought to be a bus marked George Mohr's Tours.

It would depart from Winner Avenue, not too far from some of the oldest barns at Pimlico Race Course, ramble along Belvedere Avenue and crisscross Mount Washington.

For the next hour, you'd learn about the people, the hidden landmarks, the bulldozed farms and the vanished streets of the racing village that once surrounded Old Hilltop.

George Mohr at 78 is a legend in racing circles, a distinguished trainer of top thoroughbreds who has never left his old neighborhood.

"This was a place where people kept horses right in stables at the backs of their homes. They would walk them to the track and train them there," he said as we drove west on Belvedere one day this week.

Crowds poured off streetcars at Park Heights Avenue and Belvedere, once the main pedestrian entrance to the track. There was once a large Read's drugstore at the corner where many a racing tip was passed and a bet taken. When there was a photo finish, and it seemed like hours before the result was made official, some impatient fans suggested the film was being sent to this drugstore for processing.

Mohr's tour gets to Denmore Avenue at Belvedere. The location sparks memories.

"I was born just across the old Denmore Park Hotel. There were hotels for racing people all over this neighborhood. The Suburban was down where St. Ambrose Church is [Park Heights and Wylie avenues]. This was really country out here. The last summer hotel was the Pimlico Hotel, which became the famous restaurant," he said.

He pulls to the curb to talk about Electric Park, a fantastic amusement Tivoli at Reisterstown Road and Belvedere. It had a trotting track for night racing under incandescent lights that lent the place its name.

"There were three tracks here once," Mr. Mohr recalled. "Pimlico was by far the largest. There was Electric and Gentlemen's Driving Park, which burned when I was just a kid. I used to ride my pony there."

As we swing through Mount Washington, Mr. Mohr seems to have a story about every other house and street. At 2700 Ken Oak Ave., he points to a big house that Margaret Emerson, daughter of the Bromo-Seltzer inventor, had built for her horses' trainer, J.H. "Bud" Stotler.

On Rogers Avenue, Mr. Mohr identifies the sprawling place that the owners of the Clyde Steamship Line bought from his grandfather. "They would buy a house, furnish it, send down their servants but only live there during the racing season," he said. At 5708 Pimlico Road, we pull in the driveway. It was here that gangster Al Capone was quartered in the 1930s while he was getting treatments to cure venereal disease. Capone had state police protection.

"I once claimed a horse off Al Capone," Mr. Mohr said in a matter-of-fact voice.

We drive north on Pimlico Road to Smith Avenue, today a neighborhood of 30-year-old, split-level houses.

"All this was Glengar Farm," he said of the old William Jennings property that produced Dunboyne, the winner of the 1887 Preakness. Mr. Mohr's fellow trainer, 90-year-old Henry Clark (his family name is perpetuated in Clark's Hill Lane, off Falls Road near Kelly Avenue) retains the Irish place name Glengar at his present farm in Glyndon.

At the Mount Washington light rail stop, Mr. Mohr points to a rail siding's site where some of the greatest American thoroughbreds were led off Pennsylvania Railroad cars. Man o' War, Seabiscuit and War Admiral once arrived by rail. Grooms then walked these beautiful animals up the South Road hill to the Rogers Avenue barns.

Mr. Mohr stops the car at Manna Bible Baptist Church, Belvedere and Palmer avenues. "That's a church today, but it was once a house, the home of Jim Fitzsimmons, the famous trainer."

At the back stretch of Pimlico, he stops and tells the story of the battles trainers waged against the No. 25 Mount Washington streetcar.

It ran alongside a part of the track where horses were being "schooled," or trained, in how to break when a bell is rung.

"The streetcar motormen were always ringing their bells and it was confusing the horses. The horses would break and be all over the track when the car came along.

"So the Maryland Jockey Club wrote an official letter of protest to the United Railways. You know how much good that did? The streetcar bell ringing only got worse."

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