Dawn At Fells Point Sheds Light On Balance Of The Old And The New

March 10, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

After a season of freezing weather and short, dark days, I was ready for a long walk through the part of Baltimore that seems to change by the week. Would the streets of Fells Point be vacant as the sun was coming up? No. Many others were getting a run or walk in before the neighborhood is turned over to business, tourists and the thirsty.

My 6:45 a.m. street mates were onto a good thing, too. Baltimore's energetic reconstruction is always delivering surprises. I also like those reassuring second and third looks at what doesn't change here.

Some kind fate had arranged that ideal morning. There was a handsome bulk cargo carrier docked at the Domino Sugar plant. Big steam clouds trailed out of the ship - or maybe they were coming from the old plant itself. Whatever the cause, it all made for a maritime composition an artist might envy. You could look straight across the harbor and observe traffic on the elevated sections of the interstate south of Fort Avenue.

The Coast Guard had thoughtfully docked a buoy tender at Thames Street, a nice addition to all those maroon tugs. Baltimore's harbor is still filthy around the edges of piers, but let's overlook that floating trash buildup for now. The rest of this picture is pretty spectacular.

This view 40 years ago, when the area was still mostly industrial, was dazzling; it's a relief that today the view has changed but remains remarkable.

One thing you never have to worry about in Baltimore is that despite all the gentrification and moves toward making the city more upscale, there are persistent forces at work that keep the place looking ... well, like Baltimore: a little poor, a little in need of some paint.

And yet there are blocks in Inner Harbor East, between Fells Point and Little Italy, where Baltimore disappears and something else happens. On that morning, I didn't dislike what I observed here at all; it is just so new. I wonder if the experience was like a trip downtown in 1905, when the city was being rebuilt after the 1904 fire.

There is no secret why people are moving to this part of the city. That morning, I ran into friends who bought a place at the Canal Street Malt House on Central Avenue, who graciously invited me in to see their new apartment at an hour when most people are reaching to silence an alarm clock.

Baltimore possesses such magnificent urban views - the kind these new apartments provide with extra-large windows. As delightful as the water vistas are, there is still something timeless in the look up toward Broadway and Orleans and the cupola atop the old Washington Medical College, where Edgar Allan Poe died.

The eye lights on the church steeples of East Baltimore. That morning, I seemed to be looking right into the twin towers of Holy Rosary - even though they were a mile distant.

In the foreground of all this newness/antiquity, some enterprising person has placed a new fitness center. Not so long ago, the place was full of machines that spit out millions of little metal tacks.


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