A true Baltimore celebration of memories on the waterfront

Street performers, politicians and others help mark the 25th anniversary of Harborplace - where first jobs were found and lasting friendships were made.

July 02, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN STAFF

For Theresa Fries, Harborplace is more than a spot for an afternoon stroll or a place to enjoy an ice cream cone. It's actually a piece of her family history.

Fries, a Linthicum resident who grew up in Irvington, attended the opening of Baltimore's downtown attraction 25 years ago. So did her husband, Bob, although they didn't know each other then. They would meet later and realize they had shared the day's festivities.

And yesterday, with nostalgia on their minds, the Frieses watched street performers, politicians and a parade of cheerleaders mark Harborplace's anniversary - and in a way, their own.

"It's hard to believe that it's been 25 years," Theresa Fries, 52, said.

On the surface, Harborplace is the quintessential urban tourist trap, complete with chain restaurants and trinket shops.

But like any city gathering site, it's also a place of memories, of first jobs and lifelong loves and lasting friendships. And many of the people who passed through yesterday, the first of a four-day celebration, had personal stories to share.

During a ceremony to launch the day's events, Katie Curran O'Malley, the wife of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, said she worked her way through college at Phillips Harborplace, a seafood restaurant.

"Thank you, Phillips, for getting me through Towson University," she said to chuckles from a midday audience. "It was my first and most favorite job." The mayor, who was joined by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., reminded people that when Harborplace opened, "the Inner Harbor of Baltimore was nobody's idea of a tourist destination."

"Great progress requires us to take risks," he said.

Sarah Sette worked at Harborplace to put herself through law school. Sette was a sales clerk at Books for Cooks about the time that Harborplace opened.

For one group of people - the street performers who juggle flaming torches, walk on high wires and ride unicycles in the amphitheater - Harborplace has provided a reliable venue for professional growth.

It has also given them a sense of community. Many have remained friends through the years. They cheered each other on yesterday through a scheduled 10-hour medley of performances in the sweltering heat.

Mike Rosman, 38, started performing his comedy juggling routine 20 years ago at Harborplace. Although he also gives shows on cruise ships and at colleges, he said that Harborplace, with its open space and steady stream of foot traffic, is a great place to work out a routine.

"This is where you cut your teeth here," said Rosman, who donned a black bolero and suspenders, a bright yellow tie and royal blue striped pants.

Rosman's former performing partner, Jeff Toney, 37, who was visiting from Spokane, Wash., with his family, agreed.

"Even if you're not good, it's a great place to learn how to be good," said Toney, who is now a recruiter with a staffing company.

Toney couldn't resist an actual walk down memory lane. Although he said he'd all but given up his street-performing days and the two men hadn't seen each other in years, Toney mounted Rosman's shoulders for a dual juggling routine.

Despite dropping a few pins, they grinned from ear to ear, and their audience applauded.

Musician Bob Hallett, 56, performed at the Harborplace opening. His retirement from street performing couldn't keep him away from the anniversary.

Hallett, who works days as a librarian at Reisterstown Elementary School, crooned "Stand By Me" and "Under the Boardwalk."

After Hallett finished his set, an admirer approached to tell him how much he loves his music. "And that's what it's all about," Hallett said.

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