Millennium clock faces countdown Delegate asks Glendening to relocate device

September 05, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The days of the state's new count-down-to-the-millennium clock are numbered -- and not in the way its designers intended.

Nine feet tall, green and garish, the digital scoreboard-like contraption has drawn complaints and disapproving comments almost from the minute it went up with great fanfare in front of the historic State House on Lawyer's Mall Wednesday.

It will come down within a month, vows Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The clock obstructs tourists' view of the 222-year-old building and mars the postcard picture of crab apple trees, the Governor's Mansion and the Justice Thurgood Marshall statue.

"We have a lovely view when you approach Annapolis from Rowe Boulevard," said Miller, a history buff. "It's now marred by the clock. It's not in keeping with the aesthetics of our historic State House, where the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the [Revolutionary] war."

Del. Michael E. Busch, who lives in Annapolis, agreed.

"I'm a traditionalist," said Busch, a former history teacher and high school football coach who represents Anne Arundel County's District 30. "I just don't think a clock that looks like an athletic scoreboard belongs there. I keep getting flashes in my mind that the sign will soon say 'One billion served.'

"Or maybe 'Over three hundred billion pieces of legislation passed,' " joked Busch, a Democrat, who sent a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday requesting relocation of the clock.

Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, slammed the Democratic governor running for re-election for more than bad taste. "Parris Glendening has outdone himself by coming up with yet another way to flush taxpayer money down the drain."

The $16,000 clock -- the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 has a budget of $2.5 million for its activities -- was unveiled with much excitement by commission members led by chairman and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and a female #i millennium mascot bedecked in a star-spangled top hat and a tunic the colors of Maryland's red, yellow and black flag.

The commission's executive director, Louise Hayman, said she was unaware of any complaints about the clock except for one from a person who "didn't think the state should have a millennium celebration, but the caller was a rather partisan Republican."

Annapolis' hidebound historical preservationists were surprisingly calm about the clock in the middle of their Colonial city.

"If it were going to be there forever, I'd be more concerned," said Anne M. Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

The clock, on state property, needed no approval from local historical groups, and it also sits beyond the purview of the State House Trust, which oversees most of Lawyer's Mall. All it needed was a nod from the state Department of General Services.

Officials there checked only to see that it wouldn't block motorists' view.

"We did not want to invest a great deal of money in something like this," Hayman explained. "We wanted to make the point that the seconds are ticking away. This is the state capital. A great many tourists come and go here. We wanted it where a great many people are able to see it."

Some tourists didn't want to see the clock.

Sisters-in-law Janet and Janice Borchard, loaded down with camcorders and cameras, were in town for a day of sightseeing through the Naval Academy and City Dock when they came across the timepiece. Puzzled, they climbed onto the grass, stood next to the clock and then snapped pictures of the State House.

"It's kind of like in the middle of a photo op," complained Janice Borchard, 44, visiting from Sacramento, Calif. "It's a little bit of an eyesore."

"Yes, we certainly don't want the sign in our picture," said Janet Borchard, 47, from Germantown. "It's a cute idea, but it doesn't fit with the architecture."

All day long, the forest-green board drew double takes from people passing along College Avenue.

Two women walking to work at the Legislative Building nearby, laughed at the sight, but shook their heads and said, "We're not allowed to comment."

"Oh, it's shameless self-aggrandizing," laughed Danny Henri, 27, a London resident visiting the city with sailing buddies Stever Hoey, 35, of Los Angeles and Chris Oakley, 39, also of London.

Framing the countdown clock view with his hands and closing one eye for perspective, Oakley pronounced like an architectural critic: "Perhaps some neoclassical columns to the side of it, an image of Mars and Venus on top and the hand of God reaching out from the bottom would improve the sign.

"Nah. It's too American. Too obvious," he chuckled. "You need something more subtle. Something European."

The last time the spotlight focused on state aesthetics was after the highly secretive redesign of the Governor's Mansion in 1988 by then-Governor Schaefer's companion, Hilda Mae Snoops. Sun art critic John Dorsey called the redecoration bland and dull, while other critics decried the new public rooms as "shabby" and the private rooms as "disasters."

But as far as millennium clocks go, Annapolis could be worse off. Dallas put one on the roof of city Police Headquarters in Fair Park and Paris has one perched atop the Eiffel Tower.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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