Fighting to save old city sites

Baltimore Glimpses

February 23, 1999|By Gil Sandler

WITH the announcement that there are plans to raze a dozen buildings near the old Stewart's department store building at Howard and Lexington streets for offices, residences, shops and parking, Baltimore can expect to see another battle of two well-known factions.

On one side, are those who say that the buildings are uniquely tied to our identity as a city, making them too valuable to lose. Some call such advocates the "romantics." On the other side, are the "realists," who say this plan will revitalize the west side of downtown.

Across the city, we can see a record of the two sides' wins and losses.

In the mid-1960s, there were plans to send a four-lane highway through Fells Point. But the romantics -- who compared Fells Point with Philadelphia's Society Hill and Washington's Georgetown -- carried the day.

The realists won when we razed the entire square block of Baltimore Street between Guilford and Holliday and converted it into one mega-garage, sending the revered Horn and Horn restaurant to the dustbin of history.

The romantics won the Beethoven Apartments controversy on Bolton Hill. The apartments, which had been badly damage by fire in 1978, were saved and restored to their former glory.

The realists won the battle of the Peabody Bookshop and Beer Stube, a long-time Charles Street landmark. In August 1997, the owners pleaded guilty of "demolition by neglect." It was knocked down a few months later.

Among the fallen over the years are the Rennert Hotel, Ford's theater and the Tower Building (northwest corner of Baltimore Street and Guilford Avenue), with its clock tower and walk through arcade.

Survivors include the Power Plant, the President Street Station, the Greyhound Bus Station garage, the Hecht Co. building at Howard and Lexington, and recently, the USF&G building at Calvert and Redwood.

In the end, we citizens and city buffs are caught between the romantics with their dreams of an architecturally and historically rich city, and the realists, with their cold and worldly arithmetic of urban survival -- each compelling.

We look at both sides and hope the good guys win. Problem is, we don't always know who they are.

Gil Sandler writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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