Patterson pagoda has storied return

Tower: Dedicated neighbors reopen the park's historic landmark after years of neglect.

April 28, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Mary Sloan Roby stood before the deteriorating hulk that dominated her East Baltimore neighborhood 10 years ago and promised a small group of volunteers that the Patterson Park Pagoda would reopen in all its original grandeur within a year.

The president of the Friends of Patterson Park was a bit off on time. It would take a decade of planning and $500,000 to relieve the 60-foot tower of its shattered windows, rotting wood, peeling paint, rusting ironwork and infestation of pigeons.

Before a crowd of several thousand yesterday, Roby officially reopened the pagoda. Its restoration is historically accurate, with stained-glass windows cut to original design and color. Its wood trim is repaired and painted as close as possible to the tones used in 1891, but now the paint is lead-free. Its iron is glistening, free of pigeons.

The ceremony opened with a solemn rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Boy Scouts from St. Casimir Church's Troop 131 raising a 30-foot-by-40-foot flag that traditionally flies at Fort McHenry. Scout Brian Borowski, 11, said he felt he was part of history.

Then 100 saxophonists blared "When the Saints Go Marching In" from all three pagoda balconies.

"This is truly the best back yard in Baltimore," Roby said. To which Mayor Martin O'Malley replied, "It is not a bad front yard, either."

O'Malley reminded the crowd that on Sept. 11, 1814, Baltimore residents dug trenches on the spot where the pagoda stands as British ships bombarded the city. Baltimore withstood the attack because "neighbors believed in themselves. That is what the Friends of Patterson Park are doing today."

The restored pagoda, built in 1891 to commemorate the War of 1812, drew many lifelong neighbors to the 155-acre park.

"The park was like heaven to me as a child," said Dorothy Meier, a Canton resident for 75 years. The pagoda's restoration "will bring up the whole neighborhood," she said.

Joan and Joe Thompson, married 50 years next month, called themselves "two old Baltimoreans with fond memories of this park." Nostalgia brought back Gloria and Don Pakulski, who have lived in Joppa 40 years.

"I practically lived here when I was a child," she said. "I swam in the pool, skated on the lake, but I never climbed to the top of the pagoda."

Neighborhood resident John Wall, 76, was never so hesitant. "I was on the top floor many times 65 years ago and I used to slide back down the banisters," he said. Wall said he eventually gave up banister riding for dancing in the park, a popular Saturday night event.

"Whenever our parents couldn't find us, they knew we were here," said Kathy Reinsfelder of Canton. "My brothers all played soccer here and now my nephews are continuing the tradition."

Marion and Gertrude Grden of Fells Point walk a four-mile route through the park every day weather allows. "It helps me play sax with better lungs," said 74-year-old Marion Grden, who performed a saxophone solo.

"This restoration is long overdue," he said. "The pagoda has been neglected for decades, but a lot of nice people have moved in around here and they are revitalizing everything."

Among those people are Mary and Clint Roby, who met and married during the restoration effort. When a hometown newspaper asked them to submit a wedding picture, they sent a photo of the pagoda instead.

"There were four pictures of young couples and one of the pagoda on the wedding page," Mary Sloan Roby said. "Our wedding write-up was right under the pagoda."

Sun staff writer Paul Longo contributed to this article.

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