Some pieces of Baltimore's urban puzzle are finally coming together

September 24, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

I was baiting rat traps in my garden the other night when the phone rang. A friend told me classic movies were at the Hippodrome for a few days, and why not see East of Eden in the manner a wide-screen film should be viewed, in a vintage picture house? I debated but a few minutes, walked out, caught a downtown bus and found myself on Eutaw Street well in advance of curtain time.

There, amid a construction scene, I couldn't help notice that the old Baltimore Equitable Society Building has been converted into Maggie Moore's Irish Pub, where I was politely greeted by Michael MacEoin of County Meath, Ireland.

As a native Baltimorean, I must say I can't always predict my reaction when an ancient Baltimore institution (the Equitable Society imparted a new meaning to the term downtown business stalwart) has endured redevelopment upheaval.

But someone has certainly invested some heavy capital in this new bar and restaurant that, judging by the conversations I overheard, has already built a following of University of Maryland professional students.

On this impromptu, solo visit, some downtown magic happened.

I stood at Maggie Moore's bar and looked outside, across Fayette Street, toward the old Drovers and Mechanics Bank, where my great-grandfather had an upstairs office. Well, I thought, it has taken a while for this old chunk of Baltimore to come back from the economic paralysis, but there was the proof I needed.

Within a minute, my mouth was watering for a dinner of shepherd's pie on the menu. There wasn't time to eat, alas.

I debated a second drink, decided against it, and walked across Eutaw Street. The rest of the block where Maggie Moore's stands is under construction, but the Starbuck's coffee sign is up at the corner of Baltimore and Eutaw, in the heart of Baltimore's commercial zone that escaped both the Baltimore Fire and 1950s urban renewal. So, are the urban pieces of the puzzle coming together? I think so.

It was an impression I experienced earlier in the week. My cab took me past the southeast corner of Light and Redwood, where a new Marriott Residence Inn has finally been completed and opened over the summer. Guests, their suitcases at their sides, were standing outside, waiting for cabs.

Well, I thought, the developers did make good on the promise made. They razed two downtown gems, the old Sun Life and Merchants & Miners buildings, and put up a hotel. Is the architecture of the new Marriott as grand and fine as what was lost? No. But it's not wretched, either. And I must say it was good to see Light Street getting some life again, also very much helped by the Hampton Inn, a preservation victory created out of the old USF&G and Baker Watts offices, just east of the Marriot at the corner of Calvert and Redwood.

I recently took an evening harbor dinner cruise and was properly impressed by the waterfront development of the past year. The nighttime skyline set off by rounded tops of the apartment buildings reminded me of the pre-casino Atlantic City boardwalk skyline. Yet as stylish as our new and ever-expanding harbor is, I still like to see my old haunts, the Eutaws, Fayettes and Howards, show off their stuff.

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