If the wind blows hard enough, the heavy red shingles atop the West Arlington Water Tower have been known to slip from their century-old settings and drop to the ground like shards of glass.
The tower's roof has a gaping hole, and city records show little work has been done to maintain the beige brick structure since its construction from 1897 to 1899.
That is until last week, when the Department of Public Works sent engineers to evaluate the 95-foot-tall tower, which has been unused since the 1930s.
"We're going to make it safe," said Kurt Kocher, public works spokesman.
The West Baltimore tower -- with small rectangular windows and a pointed roof -- soars above the colonial and ranch-style houses lining the block where the tower stands, rimmed by Granada, Eldorado, Fernhill and Ridgewood avenues.
Neighbors are upset that the tower has gone so long in disrepair.
Besides the hole in the roof, graffiti covers the tower's skirt, the building's windows are bricked-in, its exterior marble stairs have caved in, its enormous metal door is padlocked, and the chain-link fence that once surrounded the plot of yellow-grass is gone.
Peggy Williams, 62, who lives across from the tower, remembers climbing the tower's spiral marble interior staircase to the top and paying her monthly water bills at a small city office next to the structure.
Williams, president of the Arlington, Oakford and Ridgewood community group for 13 years, said the tower was "beautiful" when she moved into a red-brick Granada Avenue house 37 years ago. She said the group has repeatedly asked the city to repair the tower. Kocher could not explain the delays.
"It's been in bad shape for more than a couple of years," said Williams. "It needs to be restored; it's the only monument we [the residents] have."
Williams' next-door neighbor, Sam Berkley, 42, said he'd like the tower to remain, though he considers it to be dangerous. He said he has seen inch-and-a-half-wide shingles sail from the tower and fears someone will get hurt.
Once the main water source for the West Baltimore neighborhood, construction of the tower was financed by the Baltimore City Waterworks Department -- now part of the public works department -- a century ago, about the same time as the Roland Park Water Tower. Both structures were scheduled to be demolished after being removed from use in the 1930s, but the city did not have the money.
Repairs are a public works department priority, Kocher said, adding that engineers and consultants would make the structure safe "immediately."
Work on the West Arlington tower will begin after a fence, which is on order, is set up, Kocher said.
Pub Date: 3/18/99