Hippodrome sign welcomes all to entertainment zone

February 07, 2004|By Jacques Kelly

SOMETIME before the snows arrived, my brother Eddie telephoned to suggest I pay a call to 6 N. Eutaw St., otherwise known as the Hippodrome. He was speaking not of the theater itself, but of the newly installed sign that rises vertically above the street.

So, last Saturday, I dropped into a very busy, almost frenetic Lexington Market to pick up a few items and emerged from its south doors. I didn't know what to expect, but the air was cold, and the skies on the last day of January were a deep indigo blue. There, lighted by a zillion bulbs, was a glorious product of the signmakers' and electricians' art.

As my brother observed, it looks just like a vaudeville palace, which, of course, it was. You want to go in the front door and enjoy the show, and starting next week, you will have that opportunity.

The sign is the work of the Belsinger shop in Southwest Baltimore behind the old Carroll Park streetcar barns. What a pleasure it is now that architects and designers are no longer afraid of the past. It's OK to reproduce what had been taken down and discarded, which is what happened to the old Hippodrome electric banner. And I like buildings with clearly visible signs that announce just what their purpose is.

It was bitter cold that Saturday early evening, and I kept walking to keep warm. Soon I decided to retrace the path of Great Baltimore Fire, from Hopkins Place to the harbor. I hope people will spend some time in this part of downtown, which for so many years was a garment-making district, producing men's pajamas and overcoats, hats, women's blouses and uniforms.

This precinct possesses a real city feel. You could imagine back to February 1904, with a tangle of overhead wires and hoses underfoot, why the warehouses burned the way they did, one igniting the next until the fire eventually was stopped at the harbor on the south and at Jones Falls to the east.

I think of all the well-intentioned, but failed, attempts - such as the lamented but doomed Hutzler Palace of 1985 - to attract new shopping to this part of town. (Actually, if you visit on a Saturday, you'll see quite a few aggressive shoppers who travel by foot and tote shopping bags.)

Today, the neighborhood is becoming an entertainment zone, if you count Oriole Park at Camden Yards and now the Hippodrome, with our venerable Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, just to the east, and the 1st Mariner Arena.

And it now has its own bright beacon directing you to Eutaw Street.

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