Some people thought the sculpture would be a pig. That would be fitting, after all, to mark the entrance to Pigtown and the city's newest gateway project.
But what appeared yesterday at the edge of the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood were two 18- foot-tall rusted cages with an iron gate, formerly known as "The Cerberus House," after the mythical dog that guarded Hades.
"How am I supposed to like it if I don't know what I'm looking at?" asked James Baldwin, standing at the gateway with a group trying to figure out the neighborhood's latest addition.
Artist Sam Christian Holmes, who created the sculpture in 1999 for Artscape, removed Cerberus from inside the enclosed gate before the installation on a plot of grass along Washington Boulevard. "I don't want to associate this wonderful little neighborhood with the underworld," said Holmes, a Howard University professor.
The sculpture is part of the city's gateways program, which aims to beautify the area with new signs, roadwork, landscaping, painting and possibly more artwork.
"Millions of people drive up and down our gateways every year, and we want them to look good for our residents and visitors," said Amy Hasson, deputy director of the city's Planning Department. "It's the first and last impression people get of the city."
Roads scheduled for improvement include Interstate 83, Russell Street, Edmondson Avenue and Wilkens Avenue, Hasson said. Bridges on Pulaski Highway and Eastern Avenue are due to get fresh paint and some variation on the message, "Welcome to Baltimore." The cost is estimated at more than $54 million, from federal, state and local coffers.
Pigtown's gateway was donated by the artist, installed by the city and coordinated by the Washington Boulevard Main Street program, which works to rejuvenate the lagging commercial district.
The sculpture stands in an empty lot west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that soon will have trees and other foliage.
"I haven't figured it out yet, but it's OK," said Al Washington about the sculpture a few feet from his barbershop, Al's Professional Cuts. "It's better than a plain lot. It's an improvement."
Dan Beecher, 73, owner of Blue Note Variety, said that although he likes the idea of sprucing up the neighborhood, he's not optimistic that it will catch on.
Jack Danna, director of the Main Street program for Washington Boulevard, disagrees: "This sends a signal not only to people in the community, but all over, that this community is changing. This will add to and brighten the area we're resuscitating."