I OFTEN USE a grim January day to sort through the stack of receipts that I accumulated in the past year. This week I became aggressive and sifted through my household papers from the past 25 years. Among them, I found something from 1978: a $3.15 receipt from the Lee Electric Co., then on Lombard Street in the Inner Harbor.
Alas, that Lee address, along with others this winter, is vacant, freshly demolished in the current wave of downtown building wreckage. (The Lee firm endures elsewhere, by the way.)
It has been a dreadful winter for sung and unsung Baltimore landmarks and for those of us who savored their gracious cornices, broad windows and well-reasoned proportions.
A group of Lombard Street buildings went down a couple of weeks ago (parking garage due); the old New Amsterdam Casualty is rubble on St. Paul Place (a new Mercy Medical Center addition to rise there), along with some other old masonry friends on adjoining Saratoga Street. And let's not even talk about the agony of Light Street's Southern Hotel (a vacant hole for a depressing year), as well as the former Sun Life Insurance and the Merchant and Miners buildings on Redwood, a pair of elegant structures that developers impatiently tore down, only to put off building because of today's jittery financial climate.
And I can't make myself look at the last of Memorial Stadium. I tell the cabdriver to take 39th Street instead of 33rd.
As I go out on lunchtime errands, I get an eerie feeling. Am I in a dream, walking through the grainy newsreel footage the History Channel shows of London during the World War II blitz?
I know we're promised that a new Baltimore will rise from these sites. But that doesn't stop an unreformed Baltimore sentimentalist from considering their lost presence - and maybe the light switches I bought there, the Orioles ticket sales at the Southern, its cafeteria's food or all the afternoons I darted across Redwood Street with a box of laundered shirts under my arm.
These are the warm and nostalgic feelings you acquire in a lifetime spent in a city where you've lived and worked.
All my life I have observed downtown Baltimore endure the ordeal and cycle of demolish and rebuild. I recall how certain streets just disappeared - Lexington, for example, once choked with cheap shoe stores, movie houses and drugstore soda fountains. When it was hacked down in the late 1950s, we were promised a lively, clean, renewed replacement. The street, and about 30 feet under it, was bulldozed and carted away.
I think of the fall day in 1962, when the paint on the new Charles Center was still wet, that a family member escorted me downtown and showed me the results of Lexington Street's radical surgery. I hated what I saw 40 years ago; four decades of getting used to an eviscerated Lexington Street have not swayed my opinion. In fact, I've only grown more adamant, more crazy about the old stuff, less tolerant of their bland, soul-less replacements.