Patterson Park pagoda, good as new

The East Baltimore landmark reopens with a party to show off its Victorian splendor

April 25, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

A solitary saxophone player walks through Southeast Baltimore's Patterson Park, enters the park's pagoda and climbs the steps of the 1891 structure.

The musician, 74-year-old Marion Grden, plays Summertime, then Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay as he ascends the pagoda's time-worn iron steps. Then, looking toward Canton, he lets loose with Harbor Lights.

The recent event was a beautiful thing, a prelude to this Saturday's serenade of park visitors by 100 massed saxophonists - including Grden.

The occasion? The reopening amid much fanfare of the Patterson Park pagoda.

Perched on the pagoda's triple-stacked balconies, the musicians - a number of them neighborhood residents - will entertain the crowd as part of a three-hour tribute to the delightfully quirky - and exquisitely restored - Victorian observatory.

The event runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and also includes a Civil War re-enactment featuring signal flags directed at Fort McHenry, tours of the pagoda, family games, an all-pagoda art exhibit, rickshaw rides and performances of Horn's Punch and Judy show.

There'll also be a welcome by Mary Roby, president of the Friends of Patterson Park, some speeches by public officials and a formal ribbon-cutting. If it rains, everything gets moved to Sunday.

Everyone is invited to the free event. You can buy food and drink or bring your own picnic. If you have some old photos of the pagoda, bring them along, too - and your memories of the pagoda.

A lookout tower

The Patterson Park pagoda stands just off the corner of East Lombard Street and South Patterson Park Avenue, a little past a pair of glistening white-marble entry portals.

Designed as a people's lookout tower, it was built in late 1891 (though it may not have been totally finished until 1892, as numbers indicate on its stained-glass transom). It sits on a hill rising over the Patapsco River (the Baltimore harbor at this point). The structure's vaguely Asian motif was then chic. Certainly, architect Charles H. Latrobe was fascinated by the East.

Over the years, the building suffered the ups and downs of municipal maintenance. After its initial deterioration, it was closed, given minor repairs and briefly reopened a number of times. This last shutdown lasted 13 years.

Now, thanks to a historically accurate $500,000 total refurbishment that took eight months, the pagoda looks like the pride of the 1891 Park Board. Credit the state and city coffers for this investment.

Public tours of the pagoda run from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. On view will be a structure that looks in part like something stranded from a World's Fair, possibly confected by a disciple of the Eiffel Tower school of architecture. It is a valued item in Baltimore's vault of underappreciated treasures.

A playful exterior color palette of olive, yellow ochre and rusty burgundy red decorates window sashes, balconies and railings. All the windows (there seem to be at least a zillion) are inset with panes of contrasting colored and stained glass - much of it purple, blue and orange. Atop the slate roof is a sporty weather vane. It works, too.

The pagoda's interior is reminiscent of a roomy, bright lighthouse. Its iron steps are wide and generously spaced - well-trod too. You can see that this place has been much used by generations of people.

A trip to the top, about 60 feet off the ground, is not advised for people who don't like heights. And you don't have to go outside on the balconies if you don't want to. Each level has its own indoor viewing area.

The views from the pagoda provide an intimate and graceful picture of Baltimore. Situated within the emerald-green setting of the park, the observatory treats its visitors to an unexpectedly lush panorama.

Without binoculars, you can catch a glimpse of many Baltimore landmarks - the American Brewery, the City College tower, the urban villages of Fells Point, Highlandtown, Butchers Hill and Canton, the cranes at Dundalk Marine Terminal. Plus scads of church towers, chimneys and Formstone walls. And isn't that Druid Hill Park off in the distance? And don't they all look better filtered through the spring-green of maple trees?

"It will afford a view of the Patapsco river to Seven-Foot Knoll, including Sparrow's Point, Fort Carroll, Fort McHenry and the shipping in the harbor. At night the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's big transfer boat, twinkling with electric lights from stem to stern, glides across the river through the darkness like a spectre," The Sun reported of the then-new pagoda in an August 1891 story under the heading "Pretty Public Gardens."

Some flag-waving

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