An old tradition enters new era

Organizer: When the Women's Civic League abandoned the Flower Mart last year, a Mount Vernon lawyer made it his mission to keep the spring ritual alive.

May 19, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

As opera singers performed in the late afternoon light of the Flower Mart Wednesday, a man sitting in the shadow of the Washington Monument surveyed the scene and said wryly, "Everybody had a great time except me."

Frederick L. Bierer, 52, a trial lawyer whose practice is in a Mount Vernon brownstone near the heart of the historic area, is an unlikely candidate for head of the event, which until this year was run by the Women's Civic League.

When league leaders decided last year that they no longer had the organizational strength to keep running the annual affair after almost a century, Bierer made it his mission to perpetuate something he fondly recalled cutting school to attend as a child growing up in the city.

"More than anyone, he was the person who stepped up to the role and became a benevolent general," said Jamie Hunt, executive director of Preservation Maryland and an expert on Mount Vernon. "Fred has the organizational skills to rally people."

First, Bierer rounded up two allies. William Donald Schaefer, state comptroller and former mayor and governor, quickly signed on as honorary chairman, and Carol Purcell, a league official and past Flower Mart leader, agreed to head this year's event. "We three didn't want to give it up," Bierer said.

Mount Vernon ties

Bierer lives in the Valley Heights area of Baltimore County but retains a passion for the city neighborhood he considers a second home. The father of three earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Baltimore.

"We really wanted to make this Mount Vernon's gig," he said, recalling how he went to the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association for seed money.

Starting in June, he borrowed or raised from a variety of sources the $75,000 he estimated it would take to put on the one-day event. With that, a nonprofit organization he had founded, Flower Mart@Mount Vernon Ltd., had some money in the bank.

If there are profits from yesterday's Flower Mart, he said, a por- tion will benefit green spaces in Mount Vernon.

Weekly meetings on Wednesday mornings fostered a sense of focus among a growing network of volunteers. Merchants and restaurateurs chipped in, as did another lawyer and a sign-painting company. Volunteers prepared 5,000 lemon sticks.

`Keep it simple'

Purcell and other civic event planners advised him to "keep it simple; don't get grandiose."

Bierer said the project was more like another full-time job. "Everybody got along and stuck to the vision," he said.

The vision was to preserve the old-fashioned aura of the show while adding elements. One innovation was to invite the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore to allow more than 200 schoolchildren to work in the fair booths as flower vendors. In the past, there weren't enough flower sellers.

Another innovation was a health expo that included Planned Parenthood.

Few hitches

Last-minute hitches, such as auxiliary parking for elderly residents of the area and the late arrival of city workers, made things exciting when Bierer arrived at dawn Wednesday.

Because some benches that had been ordered didn't make it to the Flower Mart on time, Bierer authorized spending $3,000 for extras. "I was a jack of all trades," he said.

At the end of the day, Bierer said, "I had a hell of a time. I love seeing it happen."

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