Best store tilted wall tumbles down Towson landmark goes in center renovation

April 19, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

The landmark tilted wall came tumbling down yesterday in the blink of an eye, turning 450 tons of steel and concrete into a giant scrap heap.

After almost 20 years, the unusual Best Products store at Towson Marketplace was demolished by cranes to make way for a Target store, part of a $20 million renovation of the shopping center.

Its demise brought dozens of area residents and workers to the dust-swept parking lot at Putty Hill Avenue and Goucher Boulevard to watch the unusual architecture crumble. By 10 a.m., they had lined up their cars like patrons at a drive-in theater waiting for the show to begin.

"I've been coming to the mall since I was a little kid," said Abe Schroen, 18, of Parkville, sitting on the hood of his car. "It's like the last piece is coming down."

The distinctive Best facade that jutted at an angle has never failed to elicit comments since it opened in October 1978. And yesterday was no exception.

"It's weird looking," said John Dobson, 27, of Loch Raven Village. "All it was was an attention getter."

And Tom Sawyer, in charge of operations for Talisman-Towson Partnership, which is redeveloping the mall, said, "It looks like a 12-year-old designed it."

L But Dick Murk of Loch Raven Heights had a different opinion.

"I thought it was pretty neat," he said. "They had a sense of humor building the stores."

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Best company, based in Richmond, Va., commissioned eight whimsical buildings around the nation, including the Towson store. Now, only two remain -- one in Richmond, the other in Sacramento, Calif.

"It makes us feel very sad," said Kriz Kizak Wines, wife of the buildings' designer James Wines, an internationally known artist from Towson who is based in New York. "These things are American icons."

At one Best store, Wines placed merchandise mischievously into a building's exterior and created a facade that appeared to be peeling away at the corners.

At another, he devised a jagged cutout of a building that could be opened and closed mechanically.

And at another, he fashioned a tropical environment -- complete with a waterfall cascading down a glass-enclosed front.

"James was really playing with conceptions and ideas of architecture," Kriz Wines said. "He was saying, 'These are the most boring buildings in the world, just boxes. Let's change what you think of those boxes.' "

But in just seconds yesterday, the Towson design was gone.

With little fanfare, two yellow claw machines resembling tyrannosaurs removed the girders supporting the signature wall, which collapsed into pieces. Most of the building had been dismantled during the week.

"It's like a big animal with teeth or a bad boy knocking down his blocks," said Kathy Etzel, a Towson resident.

Two former Best employees -- Sue Cox of Carney and Robin Kretchmar of Joppa -- also braved the chilly morning, hugging each other immediately after the wall fell.

"That was quick," Cox said. "It was amazing to watch."

The former store manager recalled customers' reaction to the storefront over the years.

"A lot of older people wouldn't go into the building," she said. "They were afraid it was going to fall."

The women said the demise was timely since the company declared bankruptcy last fall.

"It's kind of appropriate," Cox said. "That's our front. Nobody else can have that front."

But Kretchmar, who captured the event on film, had difficulty saying goodbye.

"Now I'm going to cry," she said.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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