Progress is not always a good thing in Forest Park

City Diary

July 05, 2000|By Michele Rosenberg

THE BULLDOZER has knocked down the unique Spanish architecture that housed many of the neighborhood businesses in Forest Park.

For a few days, the block looked liked a bombed version of London during the World War II blitz. Amid the rubble, a proud indestructible safe was left standing alone; the last remnant of the long vanished Union Trust was still holding out.

Today, Forest Park could be as viable as it was 50 years ago. Instead, progress has caused its demise.

The drug wars have arrived. Not the illegal drug wars, but the Walgreens-vs.-CVS phenomenon. Throughout the city, these structures are replacing "mom and pop" stores. They won't bring more jobs. In fact, after all the smaller stores are closed, there probably will be fewer employees. What the chains will bring will be bigger parking lots and more places for undesirable people to loiter.

Fifty years ago, the shopping center at Garrison and Liberty Heights avenues was our mall. My family owned a dairy. There were food stores, two bakeries, a cleaners, a barber shop, a deli, a hardware store, a Chinese laundry, a dress shop, a kosher butcher, two drugstores, a liquor store, a shoe repair shop, restaurants, a bowling alley and even a movie theater. We even had a pool hall.

The term Smart Growth hadn't been invented. Urban sprawl was the future.

We had a Read's, the Baltimore drugstore with locations throughout the city. Sometimes we sat at the lunch counter after school and ordered Cokes with spirits of ammonia. Supposedly if you had a headache, this 5- or 10-cent addition to your soda made you feel better.

Read's had a toy truck sale every December, which contained samples of many of the items sold at the store. My mother bought my sister and me one every year, and we would play with the truck for hours. There were miniature packs of Lifesavers, and wintergreen was our favorite flavor.

Playing hopscotch

Next to the drugstore was Reamers shoemakers. Today it costs almost as much to have shoes resoled as it does to buy them in a discount shoe store. In the '50's it cost $2 to get shoes resoled and $1 for heels and protective taps in front. We didn't care about shoe repairs; what we cared about were the right heels for playing hopscotch that the shoemaker gave us - good hopscotch heels with a "Cats Paw," and our day was made.

Clayton's Dress Shop was expensive. For my cousin Teddy's bar mitzvah, my mother bought me a classic red and black pleated jumper with a top that buttoned in back and had a black-ribbed neck. I think it cost $18. The size 7 still hangs in the back of my closet.

At Ayrdale and Liberty Heights avenues was a smaller drugstore. It had the best snowballs. Lemon/lime was my favorite. Many people bought chocolate with a dip of ice cream on top or lathered with marshmallow cream.

They also had coddies - codfish cakes that were more potato than fish and were always accompanied with Saltine crackers and slathered with mustard.

Saturday matinees

What was the Forest Theater still stands on Garrison Boulevard, but the building now houses a religious congregation. When I was 7, my father and I joined with one of the boys in the next block and his father and went religiously to the Saturday matinee. I think the fathers enjoyed it more than we did. I still remember the Jordan almonds with their pastel sickly sweet shells and the pink and white licorice, Good and Plentys.

If you weren't shopping or watching a movie or attending school or at a synagogue service, you were probably in the bowling alley. Everyone bowled duck-pins. As the pins were knocked over, a pin boy scooted around to remove the dead wood. Years later, Walter Dean, one of the pin boys became my delegate in Annapolis.

Nearby was School No. 64. Every year, students would look forward to the annual festival known as June Joyance. Ask Rep. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Baltimore, what his favorite festival food was. His mother made the sticky apples. Ben's wife, Myrna, says she still has the recipe. Cones of pink cotton candy were devoured. I really couldn't understand why anyone would want to lick cotton. I didn't realize it was spun sugar.

The No. 32 streetcar ran down Liberty Heights Avenue. It stopped at Garrison Avenue in front of the firehouse. As a little girl, I was petrified that I'd get off the streetcar and be hit by a fire engine.

Memories are wonderful. So is progress. But when is progress really progress? It would be so much nicer to have a true neighborhood shopping center.

Today's writer

Michele Rosenberg grew up in Forest Park and now lives in Dickeyville.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

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