The short, remarkable life of our Inner Harbor Baltimore glimpses

June 16, 1998|By Gil Sandler

ON A bright day in April, sailboats competing in the world-class Whitbread Round the World Race moved into the Inner Harbor against the late afternoon sun as thousands cheered. The next morning, the stately Ecuadorian tall ship Guayas was moored at the Light Street quay, its sailors standing precariously high on the yardarms and waving goodbye. Fans on their way to Camden Yards mingled with conventioneers in suits, crowding the promenades.

My heart quickened at the sight. And I couldn't help but think -- just 20 years ago the Inner Harbor was a waterside parking lot. It was known as Sam Smith Park, named for the Maryland war hero, and it owes its place in Baltimore history to being the site of the city's first parking meters.

Before it was the Sam Smith parking lot, the land sat vacant and cluttered with the remnants of the harborside's yesterdays, having only recently been cleared of the debris of old wharves and bay steamers: the Old Bay Line to Norfolk and Richmond, the Smokey Joe ferries and Tolchester boats to Eastern Shore resorts.

Only 17 years ago the Hyatt Regency Hotel opened, giving the city its first waterfront hotel. That year, Pier Six was completed, bringing thousands downtown to big-name concerts alongside the water, under the stars. The National Aquarium opened, providing Baltimore with the harbor's first nationally recognized tourist attraction in many years.

It has been 18 years since the Harborplace pavilions opened and joined Charles Center in separating the old Baltimore from the new. The ambience of the Inner Harbor had been helped considerably by the opening in 1978 of the Inner Harbor Marina on the south side, filling the scene with the joyful sight of small pleasure craft.

It has been 21 years since the harbor landscape was changed dramatically with the construction of the World Trade Center.

Has it been just 22 years ago that the Inner Harbor enjoyed its finest hour when the tall ships arrived in a stately procession? More than 2 1/2 million people from all over the country came to see them. That same year, 1976, the Maryland Science Center opened.

During strolls around the harbor you may assume the walkways have been there forever, but the promenade was not completed until 1975. The John L. Deaton Medical Nursing Center, the first of the buildings that ring the harbor and now define it, wasn't built until 1973.

It was just 26 years ago that the U.S.S. Constellation was moved to the harbor.

nTC The entire Inner Harbor -- from concept to Whitbread spectacle -- has evolved over the course of 35 years, not very long in the life of an old Eastern city. Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin announced plans for the development of the harbor in 1963; city planners first proposed the concept in 1956, with a vague vision of the future.

A mere 42 years from the day that dream was first dreamed, the Whitbread racing boats tacked gracefully up the Patapsco River. As I took in the bright, sunlit city scene and thought about the speed with which the harbor turned into a thing of beauty, I couldn't help but blink.

Gil Sandler writes from and about Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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