For one harbor hotspot, `Inner' is on the way out

Makeover: Inner Harbor East developers rename their neighborhood to evoke a new identity, but time will tell if `Harbor East' will stick.

January 24, 2004|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

If you still call it Inner Harbor East, get with the program. It's Harbor East now. The "inner" is out of fashion for the booming waterfront district between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor.

Prominent developers John Paterakis Sr. and C. William Struever are vigorously "branding" what the city still calls Inner Harbor East with a shorter, sleeker name meant to evoke a new identity. They have a Harbor East Web site, a logo and a newsletter called The Compass. Still to come: Harbor East signs on lampposts.

"The premier entertainment-lifestyle destination," boasts the Web site for a once-derelict area home to a growing number of restaurants, hotels, apartments, condominiums and offices.

Attempted name makeovers like this aren't new in Baltimore. Some stick (think Charles Village), and some fizzle. Market Center has never taken hold around Lexington Market. And no one expects a couple of New York knockoffs cooked up by consultants - NoLo for north of Lombard and SoMo for south of Mount Vernon - to be uttered anytime soon downtown.

Sometimes, a single name doesn't do it. Pigtown added the more dignified Washington Village, although the annual pig races continue. The duality reflects the Southwest Baltimore community's ambivalence about its slaughterhouse past.

When it comes to names, the city tries to stay out of the way.

"Baltimore is definitely a city of originality and self-determination," said planning director Otis Rolley III. "People within a particular neighborhood have a way of looking around them and deciding, `This is Charles Village, this is Park Heights, this is Harbor East.' "

Except that Inner Harbor East never was a neighborhood but a grim industrial zone. Even today it has few residents, though that is changing. For now, Paterakis and Struever are the ones looking around and deciding.

What they have decided is the area no longer needs a link to the well-known Inner Harbor tourist arena, said Lawrence J. White, senior development director at Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse. The Harbor East name, he said, "is a function of its evolution, of coming into its own being as a place and a recognized place to go."

The city, which owns the streets and at least one property in Inner Harbor East, is content to sit back and see if the marketing works. "It's all right with me," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm.

The name Inner Harbor East, Brodie said, has no real roots, either. The city made it up more than three decades ago in the urban renewal process as planners envisioned the future of areas west and east of the core Inner Harbor.

The area east of the harbor today stretches roughly from President Street east to Caroline Street at Fells Point's doorstep, and from the water north to Fleet Street. Struever and Paterakis use a smaller boundary for Harbor East, stopping at Central Avenue, for now.

At one time, much of the area didn't even exist; it was water. An 1801 map shows that someone standing at Caroline and Fleet streets would have to walk just a few feet to the southwest before splashing into the harbor.

City fathers soon realized they could make new land by dumping fill along the shore. By 1823, fill had given Inner Harbor East its current outline, and City Dock was built. By mid-century, President Street Station was humming, with coal yards and machine shops rising around the railroad. At the water, lumberyards grew up.

What it lacked, apparently, was a name. "I don't know that area ever had a name," said Bob Keith, author of Baltimore Harbor: A Picture History.

The industry lasted well into the 20th century. "Right up to the 1950s there were a lot of lumberyards and those things in that part of the city," said Francis O'Neill, the Maryland Historical Society's reference librarian. "When they go out of business, there are big blocks of land for redevelopment."

Now most of those blocks of land have shiny buildings, and it is common to see BMWs glide by as people shop at Whole Foods, dine at the upscale Charleston restaurant or check in at the 32-story Marriott. Much of the real estate belongs to Paterakis, the wealthy owner of H&S Bakery who increasingly partners with Struever.

The more things changed, it seemed, the less likely the Inner Harbor East tag would stick. There was no conscious effort, though, to come up with a new name, said Struever's White.

On occasion, that works. One example is SoWeBo, for Southwest Baltimore. Ted Getzel came up with it as a show of solidarity with Soweto in South Africa. SoWeBo has had rough times, but the Lonely Planet travel guide loves the name. "You'll be instantly accepted into the Baltimore cool set," it says, "if you call Southwest Baltimore `SoWeBo.' "

Perhaps the best modern example is Charles Village, previously Peabody Heights. In 1967, Grace Darin coined Charles Village and fostered the identity of the neighborhood near the Johns Hopkins University.

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