Baltimore buffs chart downtown walking tours Groups hope trails will lure tourists

September 15, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In the spirit of Boston's famed Freedom Trail, it may soon be easier to discover Baltimore's cultural and historical treasures on foot.

Two Bolton Hill neighbors are charting a walking trail that would connect the dots between Baltimore's attractions and historic sites on city streets.

A smaller walking tour, linking some of the city's premier cultural and architectural attractions, is being discussed at the newly formed Mount Vernon Cultural District.

Proponents say a simple sidewalk line extending a few miles would help the tourism industry and give residents a greater sense of the city.

"The concept of a tour that connects the whole city would remind people who live here of the rich history," said Lee %J Tawney, assistant to the mayor, who helped dream up the larger walking tour.

Speaking of a tour with architect Doug Kelso, a friend and Bolton Hill neighbor, he said, "When we walked it, it was great fun."

Kelso said he got the idea from walking Boston's 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, which begins at the gold-domed statehouse on Boston's Beacon Hill, passes Paul Revere's house and the USS Constitution and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument.

The sidewalk for the trail was paved with red bricks, marked with new signs and finished this summer at a cost of $1 million in city funds. The three- to four-hour walk attracts more than 1 million people a year, according to the Freedom Trail Foundation.

"When I was in Boston, I was impressed as an architect," said Kelso, who has drafted a design for a 4-mile walking or jogging path through Baltimore.

"It rings the downtown area," said Kelso. "It starts at the Inner Harbor, goes up to Camden Yards and Lexington Market, then over to the Maryland Historical Society, Mount Vernon and City Hall."

Another attraction along the way is the church where Edgar Allen Poe is buried.

Kelso described the proposed trail as a "continuous loop you could pick up at any point."

Instead of bricks, he and others think a continuous painted line in a bright color would serve well. Boston's trail was marked by a red painted line when it was established in 1958.

"It's the heart and soul of Boston," said the city's mayor, Thomas M. Menino, who vigorously supported the trail renovation.

Referring to his boss, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Tawney said, "The mayor has been very supportive of the idea," though no plans are in place at City Hall for a public works project.

Jamie Hunt of the Mount Vernon Cultural District expressed interest in comparing notes with Kelso and Tawney's loop.

A concept tentatively called "ArtsLoop" is under consideration by the board of the newly formed Mount Vernon Cultural District as a visible link between its various parts: Walters Art Gallery, Center Stage, Peabody Institute, Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Basilica of the Assumption.

Hunt, the organization's director, said one question is: "What is the story we're going to tell?" Hunt added that "a dense web" of architectural history can be seen on the city's streets.

Two cultural institution directors enthusiastically embraced the idea as a visual invitation to visitors to venture beyond the Inner Harbor and see the city on foot.

"We have been hatching the same sort of plot for Mount Vernon, and it would be nifty if we could all work together," said Dennis Fiori, executive director of the Maryland Historical Society. "We see it as a tie between all the arts, even up to the [Baltimore] Symphony."

"I think it's a terrific idea because Baltimore is a walkable city, and it would give some coherence to cultural tourism," said Robert Sirota, the Peabody Institute director.

Sirota, who lived in Boston for nearly 20 years before moving to Baltimore in 1991, added, "This will work great here." He praised the Freedom Trail as "simplicity itself."

Both Baltimore and Boston were built long before the auto age and by the water, and their size and scale are comparable. Menino said he thought the idea would work as well here as in Boston: "Cities learn from each other."

Boston's trail "represents the beginning of the revolution," said Gina Allen of the Freedom Trail Foundation.

As Fiori recalled from his Maine upbringing, "Every elementary -- school in New England did it."

A Baltimore architectural expert, Charles Duff, said a walking trail would give people "a good sense of how the city works."

"Cities are big places, and they have more going on than almost anybody knows," he said.

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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