Liquidation of City Life Museums Settlement: Maryland Historical Society gets collections, city gets buildings.

December 19, 1997

THE MARYLAND Historical Society is the big winner in the liquidation of the Baltimore City Life Museums, which was forced to padlock its doors June 21.

It will add to the society's collection 58 paintings by members of the Rembrandt Peale family, thus becoming the biggest repository of Peale art anywhere. The historical society will also acquire and display in its Mount Vernon buildings the rest of the City Life memorabilia.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the future of various City Life buildings is uncertain -- the Shot Tower, H. L. Mencken's rowhouse, the Peale Museum, Carroll Mansion and a renovated iron building named just last year in honor of the late Morton K. Blaustein. The city has no plans for any of the structures, except that "Blaustein will be used for public purposes that support the arts," according to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The merger of the City Life Museums into the Maryland Historical Society may be a harbinger of things to come.

Several other struggling exhibits also may soon have to find a stronger partner.

As a sprawling operation that stretched to four sites, City Life was more ambitious and costly to run than most other history museums. It kept expanding its facilities -- without adding to its corporate and private financial support or even its number of visitors. The transfer of collections to the Maryland Historical Society gives them a home on the campus of a more established and better funded institution.

Yesterday, Dennis Fiori, executive director of the historical society, welcomed the "great infusion of material from the late 19th and early 20th centuries," which were the strengths of City Life Museums.

Although a permanent exhibition of those acquisitions will have to wait for a building expansion that is still in the planning stage, the historical society intends to put the "greatest hits" of City Life on view in March.

Mr. Fiori's favorite is a door from John Unitas' Golden Arm restaurant. It led to the men's restroom, which the former Colt quarterback named the "Bob Irsay Room" -- after the owner who moved the beloved football team to Indianapolis one snowy night.

City Life had plenty of items like that. They told the story of quintessential Baltimore through the ages. We are happy the story will continue to be told.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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