Condo keeps legacy alive for `Diner' guy


Decor: Chip Silverman says his home will always remind him of his days with the others on whom the movie `Diner' was based.

September 11, 2005|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Baltimorean Howard "Chip" Silverman considers himself the "keeper of a legacy" - a tangible one located in Village of Cross Keys in North Baltimore. It is here, in his 1,300-square-foot residence in the high-rise Harper House condominiums, that he keeps an urban memory alive for himself and a very special group of friends.

"You are about to enter the `Disco Condo,'" he remarked, turning the key deliberately in the lock. After the neutral decor of the unusually quiet 12th-floor hallway, the sights and sounds beyond the front door are a show-stopper.

An entrance hall of mirrored glass introduces an open living and dining area with walls painted bubble-gum pink. At the far end of the room, gold vertical window blinds are tightly closed. Instead of natural light, there's the liquid-like warmth of neon tubing affixed to the ceiling and north wall in circular shapes and geometric long arms. The neon glow ripples across the blinds and forms pastel puddles on the marble floor. Cool jazz emanates from the cloth-covered speakers of a corner, table-top record player.

"I still call this Boogie's place," said Silverman, referring to the previous owner, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass. "It's always been the place the Diner guys [as adults] would come when they ran into trouble."

Silverman, a soft-spoken 63-year-old, is a writer and addictions clinician with a doctorate. Like Boogie Weinglass, he is also one of the original young Baltimore men of the mid-1950s and 1960s portrayed in Barry Levinson's 1982 film, Diner. After the film's success and encouraged by Levinson, he wrote the critically acclaimed book, Diner Guys, published in 1989. It would be the first of several books for Silverman, who wrote about Baltimore's landmarks and interesting people.

There was no better friend (or more colorful character) in Silverman's world than Weinglass. The two grew up in Northwest Baltimore and traveled together from the playgrounds to the pool rooms to the Hilltop Diner on Reisterstown Road. Many of their crowd went on to college.

Silverman said that Boogie grew up poor yet "had a Ph.D. in street smarts." He had a marketing genius for what kids wanted, said Silverman, and that evolved into the enormously successful Merry-Go-Round clothing chain. The chain ultimately went into bankruptcy in 1994 and was liquidated two years later.

"After my second wife and I split up [in 2002]," Silverman said, "Boogie said I should just stay here." After all, the condo was vacant ten months of the year. Weinglass, who had bought it in 1978, spent most of his time in Aspen, Colo., where he and his wife moved in 1984.

Silverman loved the "easy living" of the one-bedroom, two-bath-plus-den unit. He also appreciated the 24-hour security, a front-desk receptionist and the complex's three pools. Mostly, though, he loved the unit's decor - "certain things that have always blown me away" and the reminders of his friend and the diner days. He only wished he could afford to buy the place.

"One day, Boogie said he would make me an offer I couldn't refuse," Silverman says. "He sold me the condo - and everything in it - for $130,000." He was also told that if things got tough to just start selling the artwork.

The deal was finalized in March 2003. Except for a small amount of repainting, the addition of a few personal pieces, and new bedroom carpeting, Silverman has "kept the whole flow of the place" as it was when Weinglass owned it.

A large, 35-year-old lighted Mexican Sonata jukebox from one of the Merry-Go-Round stores commands the south wall of the marbled and mirrored entrance hall. The hit parade of 45-rpm selections includes "My Prayer" by the Platters and "Runaway" by Del Shannon. A throw rug, hooked with the Baltimore Colts logo, rests at its base.

The kitchen is breathtakingly art deco with milky, opaque corrugated fiberglass cabinets, a Jenn-Air stove and Sub-Zero refrigerator. In place of ceiling molding, there are parallel tubes of white neon that gleam off the countertops and marble floor.

The dining area features a six-foot-round, smoke-shade fiberglass table with six white lacquer and leather-upholstered armchairs. A six-cushioned, semi-circular white leather sofa dominates the living room.

When he became the owner, Silverman had all of the treasures in the residence appraised. While much of the artwork had been individually tagged well into the thousands of dollars, an oversized lithographic poster by H. Chachoin, which dominates the den, is a particular favorite. Titled "Mistinguett" in bold letters across the top, it captures the soft beauty of a French chanteuse, posing modestly in a field of bright green grass. The den, like the lithograph, is calmly evocative with subtle wall lighting and art nouveau pieces that include a round, beveled mirror.

The outdoor balcony has been paved in ceramic tile and is lushly decorated with a variety of plants. Two original seats from Baltimore's Memorial Stadium bear the tin plates of the section and seat. Silverman's condo faces west, with a view of treetops near the Jones Falls.

Beyond the side-by-side bathrooms with mirrored walls, Silverman's bedroom showcases a white leather king-size bed with black silk linens. Personal and family photos rest on a black lacquer vanity with walnut inlay, while brass wall lamps from an old movie theater provide a relaxing glow.

"Before this place, writing was my main escape from [his job of] counseling," Silverman said. "Now, this place is my escape. It just conjures up Boogie and all the guys."

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