German Street BALTIMORE'S 201-year-old Alex. Brown...

NOTES AND COMMENTS

October 15, 2001

German Street

BALTIMORE'S 201-year-old Alex. Brown & Sons is the oldest investment bank in the United States.

It financed the nation's first railroad, helped rebuild the South after the Civil War. Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Cisco and Starbucks were among legends Alex. Brown took public before 1997, when it was gobbled up by bigger players.

Deutsche Bank, the current parent, is now scrapping Alex. Brown as a leading brand. Redwood Street, which borders Brown's headquarters tower, might as well be returned to its old name, German Street.

Redwood Street splendidly illustrates how cities change. It started its recorded history as Lovely Lane. American Methodism was born there in 1784. Around 1800, the stretch was renamed German Street to reflect the origins of surrounding businesses.

A century later, the Great Baltimore Fire devastated the area.

Hansa Haus, at Charles Street, survives as a landmark from the reconstruction period. Until World War II, that neo-Hanseatic gingerbread building housed shipping lines and Germany's consulate.

In the patriotic fervor of World War I, public opinion rose against the "hunnish appellation" of German Street. Some members of the City Council wanted to rename it American Street. State Street was offered as a compromise.

In 1918, it became Redwood Street. Not because of any California tree, but because of George Buchanan Redwood, who had been among the first Maryland soldiers to fight and die in France.

The street could bear his name "with honor and without apology," an editorial declared.

After World War II, Redwood Street quickly lost its prominence as a financial center. Its main tenant, the Baltimore Stock Exchange, merged with Philadelphia's in 1949. The Internal Revenue Service moved away.

In recent years, the downtown street has had more downs than ups. Old buildings have been demolished. The former Merchants Club, where 19th century speculator Jay Gould once gave a $100,000 tip for a fine meal, is in the process of becoming a dance hall.

With or without Alex. Brown, Redwood Street is ready for more changes.

-- Antero Pietila

A lost O

GOOD news from Ireland. A Baltimore Oriole was sighted (sited and cited) in Baltimore. The fishing village on the coast of east County Cork that shares a name with this big old crabbing town.

A sometime bird-watcher in Central Maryland saw one (actually, three) once in Maryland, swooping low over the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry.

But Ireland?

UTV, the Northern Ireland television station, reported Tuesday the first sighting ever of this rare bird in Ireland.

Three Dublin birdwatchers had gone to the south coast to seek migrating birds blown off course by recent Atlantic storms.

"But we were astonished to see the Baltimore Oriole, especially in Baltimore," said Aidan Kelly of the Irish Rare Birds Committee.

Some 50 enthusiasts had flocked to tiny Baltimore by day's end.

Good news from Ireland, or anywhere else, is always welcome. Of course, from the vantage point of that storm-tossed little oriole, it wasn't good news at all.

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