Waterfront changes with the times

September 25, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

THE OTHER evening I spent three hours on a Baltimore thoroughfare that has no street numbers. Out on a harbor dinner cruise with friends, we crisscrossed the familiar waters but ventured no farther east than Canton. There, the dazzling array of new harborside buildings, made all the more dramatic by night lighting, proved to me the Patapsco has to be the hottest address in town.

Our harbor has been in the news lately, with a new city law ready to guard the busy industrial waterfront and the 15,700 jobs it holds. Of course, there would be no need for the ordinance protecting working piers were it not for all these apartment houses, hotels and offices that have mushroomed in the last few years.

I've been taking harbor cruises since the 1950s when my grandfather, E.J. Monaghan, who served with the Army Corps of Engineers, proudly pointed out the grain elevators and coal-loading piers of that era. This week, my father hailed one of the harbor's surviving landmarks, the Lazaretto Point Light, with its bright green beacon, opposite Fort McHenry.

The fort and the light, along with the Domino plant, are reminders of the surviving waterfront institutions. But there are whole sections of shoreline that are new to me this September. It took this trip, after dark, to disclose the extent of this fabulous transformation, which has considerably less impact when observed from dry land and the asphalt of city streets.

While the city's been rebuilding its harbor for decades, the changes of the immediate past have been nothing short of remarkable.

Once the new building wave jumped the confined Inner Harbor of Pratt and Light streets (I grew up calling this the Basin), there seemed to be no stopping the energy. Whole chunks of the South and Southeast Baltimore on the Patapsco are now solidly residential, mostly highrise and very different from the blocky old warehouses of my youth. You might quibble with the price and design of the new townhouses, but not about their success.

And while there were once grain elevators, we now have people elevators and escalators.

I am sure there will be complaints of blocked views from those who live on the land side of these structures; the tax assessor, on the other hand, is having a happy day.

So was I that night, proud of a city that made such good use of this natural asset. No wonder several of my friends have given up their offices in the old downtown of Baltimore Street to have a desk facing the water.

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