Like the Louvre, except for the smell

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November 30, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

The Beaux Arts building is a knockout, with its orange brick, slate roof and copper turrets. You'd never guess from the looks of the place that it's a sewage pumping station. But the nose knows.

Nobody made a stink about smells wafting from the Eastern Avenue pumping station back in 1912, when it started doing its thing on Baltimore's grimy waterfront. But these days, the station sits amid pricey "Harbor East" housing and tourist attractions. In fact, the pumping station is a tourist attraction - home to the Baltimore Public Works Museum.

Visitors who come to admire the 18th-century wooden sewer pipe and make headstone-style rubbings on old water meter covers will also, at times, get a whiff of the 30 million gallons of sewage pumped through there every day. (I do mean "whiff" - not a bowl-you-over, hold-your-nose dose. But a little sewage smell goes a long way.)

That would change under a $10 million renovation plan expected to come before the Board of Estimates this summer. It calls for an improved ventilation system with scrubbers, part of a larger upgrade to the pumping system.

A small aspect of the project involves some aesthetic improvements - replacing Plexiglas windows installed in the 1970s with real glass and adding outdoor lighting. The lights would highlight the building's individual arches - an effect museum director Mari Ross likens to the Louvre at night.

"I think it's a stunning building," Ross says.

And pretty soon, it could smell as good as it looks.

It's not junk; it's a collectible

The Public Works Museum, which modestly bills itself as "surprisingly interesting," has new stuff in its gift shop just in time for Christmas.

There's jewelry made from recycled glass, metal and nuts (the nuts-and-bolts variety, not the kind you eat). Wine glasses crafted from old wine bottles. Bowls and mobiles created from recycled telephone wire. Baby onesies with the words Baltimore City Department of Public Works on the front and Bureau of Solid Waste on the bum.

One of the pricier items: a $150 bar stool with a seat made from an old water meter cover. It's surprisingly comfy.

If you can't make it down to the museum to shop, the items will be available downtown at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, 200 N. Holliday St., Friday, Dec. 9., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Who's sitting in the empty chair?

Your right-hand man is having the biggest party of his life, with a guest list that includes the president of the United States. The RSVP is a no-brainer, right?

Yep. Bob Ehrlich sends his regrets.

The gov won't be at Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's fundraiser today at M&T Bank Stadium. Is Ehrlich shying away from Bush and his Iraq-Katrina-Scooter-Libby-related woes?

Not a chance, says the governor's press office, which points out that Ehrlich will attend Bush's speech at the Naval Academy earlier in the day.

So what in the world will keep Ehrlich away?

A meeting of the Board of Public Works.

True enough. The board meeting begins at 11 a.m. in Annapolis. The fundraiser starts about noon in Baltimore.

Ehrlich could skip the meeting, but the guy who normally fills in for him is none other than Steele.

And there are big doings on the agenda. To name just a few: approving various routine wetlands licenses; awarding a contract to clean Martin State Airport; modifying a health services contract related to the federal Medicare Part D pharmacy benefit.

How could Dubya possibly compete with that?

Mickey Mouse is not among the contenders

Last Friday was Bob Ehrlich's birthday, and the first lady has been offering gift-giving suggestions in an e-mail to supporters: campaign contributions of at least $48 (a buck for each year).

But cash is such a boring gift. How about something more original for the gov, like the Bob Ehrlich for President wristwatch on eBay?

For about the past six months, it has been for sale at a low, low starting bid of $9.97 (plus $7.83 for shipping).

So far, there have been no offers. (But about 20 people have bypassed the auction to "buy it now" for $24.97, the watchmaker says.)

Made of an unspecified "rugged" metal, the timepiece has Ehrlich's mug, stars, stripes and the words "Bob Ehrlich President 2008" on its face.

Ehrlich hasn't even formally declared that he's running for re-election, much less that he's contemplating a bid for the White House. The watch was news to his press office.

"We certainly appreciate the enthusiasm of this seller," Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said. "But, however, the time has not come for such decisions. Pardon the pun."

Ehrlich shouldn't take the apparent enthusiasm too much to heart. Like so many people in politics, the seller plays both sides of the fence - hawking watches for dozens of others, Democrats and Republicans alike. Most of the other folks who have gotten the nod from "The Watch Man" (aka Ray Lindstrom of Laughlin, Nev.) are national household names - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani for the GOP, Hillary Clinton and Al Sharpton for the Democrats.

That's good news for the birthday boy: At least by Lindstrom's standards, Ehrlich is somebody worth watching.

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