Ain't the urn cool!


September 30, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Chuck Thompson wasn't just a Hall of Fame sports announcer. He also was a husband, the kind who parked himself on a shopping mall bench while his wife roamed the stores. So his final resting place - in the courtyard of a revamped shopping mall - could not be more fitting.

Six months after Thompson's death, his ashes have just been interred inside a giant outdoor fireplace at Hunt Valley Towne Centre.

Betty Thompson says her late husband had wanted his remains sprinkled over the Loch Raven Reservoir, but turns out that's not allowed. (It's used for drinking water, after all.)

She'd stashed an urn with his ashes in the spare bedroom closet. "I didn't know what I was going to do with them," she said.

Then fate, in the form of a shopping mall developer, intervened.

Looking to shake the pre-fab feel from its northern Baltimore County project, Greenberg Commercial Corp. asked if it could name the outdoor courtyard for the late Colts and Orioles announcer.

They were after a little local character.

They got the whole guy, urn and all.

"I asked them [to stash the ashes inside the fireplace] and they said, `Of course,'" Betty Thompson said.

That sure put the "memorial" in the Chuck Thompson Memorial Plaza, though nothing on the premises lets on that there's a one-man cemetery amid all that shopping.

A 12-foot stone tower surrounded by lush landscaping and storefront parking, the fireplace is an eternal flame of sorts. There's a plaque with Thompson's likeness and a few words about him, but no hint that he lies within.

Nor was there any mention of the ashes during a dedication ceremony this week, an event that drew dignitaries such as first lady Kendel Ehrlich and County Executive Jim Smith, Richard Sher and the Orioles mascot.

Sher, in a broadcasting feat that could earn the WJZ-TV reporter his own shopping center shrine someday, played master of ceremonies and covered the event as a news story.

If Starbucks comes, can chic be far behind?

Forgive West Baltimoreans if they cop an attitude this morning.

They awake today to the whoosh of the milk frother and the scent of burnt coffee beans.

Starbucks has arrived.

And in the minds of many, that means they've arrived, too - before most of Baltimore.

Posher neighborhoods might turn up their noses at chain-store coffee. But they'll have to cross town to do it.

Tony Mount Washington and the touristy Inner Harbor are the only other corners of Charm City that boast stand-alone Starbucks. You can buy the brew inside the Canton Safeway store, but any cafe society chic gets lost amid the beep-beep of trash bags and Tide getting scanned at the checkout.

If the right to blow four bucks on a cup of name-brand joe isn't an urban entitlement, it does play into civic self-esteem, because the chain won't set up shop just anywhere. That's why Mayor Martin O'Malley, to the chagrin of some home-grown baristas, started wooing Starbucks more than a year ago.

The Seattle-based company, in partnership with a nonprofit, puts some stores in struggling areas as a public service. But the shop at 1 N. Eutaw St. does not fall into that category.

"It makes sense," said Casper Yu, regional marketing specialist for Starbucks. "It's a great location that I think is hopefully going to thrive."

Today, the western fringe of downtown is on the rebound. The Starbucks is on the first floor of the $80 million Centerpoint building, across the street from the newly refurbished Hippodrome Theatre.

Just think. The coffee shop that opens this morning sits at a spot where, not long ago, it would have been easier to buy crack than a pumpkin spice latte.

Good fences make good keggers

A town councilman from Durham, N.H., is in a huff over tips Towson University offers students for off-campus living.

Julian Smith is upset about material that the University of New Hampshire copied from Towson's student housing guide for use in a similar publication used at UNH.

It's not potential plagiarism that's got him riled. UNH credits Towson as a source in its guide, and no one at Towson is complaining.

Smith is upset because he thinks some of the advice, meant to make party-happy students better neighbors, won't play in Durham.

"For instance, the guide suggests students interview their neighbors and find out what is important to them, learn about their families, interests and needs," Smith told the Boston Globe earlier this month. "Most of the folks I've talked to would shudder at that thought because it violates certain cultural norms for New England."

Smith doesn't doubt the advice is fitting for Towson, in part because he's under the impression that the suburban town is a center for dense rowhouse living.

"In Towson, I understand the houses tend to be the typical Baltimore pattern that share a party wall," Smith said when I reached him by phone yesterday.

(Smith isn't the only one under that misperception. The Globe described Towson University as "an urban school in Maryland.")

Anne Lawing, UNH assistant vice president for student academic services, doesn't think the cultural divide between Towson and Durham is that great.

"We're not taking his advice [to redo the guide]," she said. "He lives in a New England whose time has come and gone."

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