Streetcar museum at crossroads Challenge: As old-timers disappear, volunteer operation has to make critical decisions.

January 31, 1998

MUCH OF Baltimore's growth and initial suburbanization was facilitated by an effective and efficient system of streetcar lines. Thirty lines, employing some 2,000 cars, whisked commuters throughout the region. All that ended in the early hours of Nov. 3, 1963, when the last car on the famous No. 8 route from Catonsville to Towson made its final run.

This rich history is documented by the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, which possesses 18 irreplaceable, vintage pieces of rolling stock.

That 32-year-old institution is now at a crossroads. It either has to make a daring leap and become a full-time museum or face the possibility of extinction as the ranks of aging volunteers thin out. "The museum has been more of an internal club than a civic operation," acknowledges its director, John C. O'Neill.

That finally may change as efforts are under way to secure the museum's future. Its board is being strengthened by such heavy hitters as William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor. Meanwhile, Bruce C. Bereano, the longtime Annapolis lobbyist, is donating his time to help with fund raising and planning.

Among urgent matters the museum has to deal with is its location. The site, in the 1900 block of Falls Road, is prone to periodic flooding that threatens the museum's increasingly valuable collection. A long-delayed relocation no longer can be postponed.

The streetcar museum is looking for alternative sites near the B&O Railroad Museum and adjoining Carroll Park. Other areas mentioned as possibilities include Canton and Locust Point.

Over the years, periodic attempts have been made to develop a cooperative arrangement between the B&O Railroad Museum, a major tourist attraction in West Baltimore, and the streetcar museum.

That still is the preferable solution. It would bring two outstanding collections together and transform the streetcar museum from a weekend attraction into a professional operation.

It also would add something the B&O museum lacks -- rolling stock that could provide visitors the excitement of nostalgic rides.

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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