Remembering the Emerson

Baltimore Glimpses

March 28, 1995|By Gilbert Sandler

A BANK NOW occupies the northwest corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets. But there isn't even a plaque noting that the storied Emerson Hotel once stood in that spot.

Storied -- because the hotel was born in story and remained steeped in stories for all of its long life -- nearly 60 years; it opened in 1911, closed in 1969, and was torn down in May 1971.

The Emerson Hotel was built -- legend has it -- because one sweltering hot afternoon in 1910 or so Capt. Isaac Emerson (the Bromo-Seltzer inventor) was dining in the Belvedere Hotel (in the pre-air conditioning days) and became so hot that he took his coat off. The management reminded him that it was a hotel rule that gentlemen had to wear coats. So the cantankerous old captain allegedly said: "the he-- with you, I'll build my own hotel." And so he did.

In its glory days the 17-story hotel played host to many celebrities (Jimmy Durante, Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover), and the not so celebrated (high school proms). The oak-paneled Mallard Bar and the Eastern Shore Cafe were popular meeting spots. The lobby -- which had columns of Carrara marble -- was lined with paintings related to Maryland's history.

But the Emerson's real place in history is secured by its having been election headquarters of the Maryland Democratic Party.

As Democratic headquarters, it was strategically located across the street from Bickford's Restaurant, on the east side of Calvert Street between Baltimore and Fayette streets (fittingly, the place sits empty now). So many Democratic politicians gathered at Bickford's that it was dubbed "No. 10 Downing St." -- noting that its importance to Baltimore's pols was not unlike the residence of Britain's prime minister to London's pols. If you doubt the stories about Bickford's, consider this: On primary election eve in 1950, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate George P. Mahoney, in his headquarters at the Emerson, became confused by early televised election returns and told an aide, "Go across the street to Bickford's and find out what the he-- is going on!"

In 1947, Captain Emerson's estate sold the hotel to Robert R. Meyer, owner of a chain of hotels. In 1961, it was sold to the Weissberg Corp., which went bankrupt in 1967. Two years later, it was sold at auction. It would change ownership several more times before it was razed.

If you love this town, the next time you walk past the northwest corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets, stop a moment in quiet repose. And in memory of the Emerson Hotel and the million stories they tell about it, and in particular of Isaac Emerson who made it all possible -- take off your coat.

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