The Sights After Two Weeks Away Show Just How Quickly The City Can Change

July 26, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY

I was away from Baltimore for less than two weeks, but the ride home from the airport made me realize just how much I was missing - or how quickly the city changes. I've ridden the light rail line numerous times and can practically recite from memory the stops and the scenery.

We had crossed the gates at Waterview Avenue when Westport and all its familiar sights should have popped into view. But where was the old Carr-Lowery Glass plant? It was totally gone and replaced by a neat pile of yellow sand. And in its place, there was an expansive view of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. I'd read the stories about how this part of town would be changing - but Baltimore can take a long time to get something done. And when you are away, if only for a handful of days, and you come home to a change, it's a shock.

The old glass plant, where generations of workers made fancy perfume bottles, among other items, was now history. And the lack of a manufacturing building alongside the river only underscored what the urban planners have long been saying: the Middle Branch ought to be turned in a green waterfront section free of 19th-century industry.

I was just recovering from this bit of upheaval when the car passed the old Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s Kloman Street coal-fired power plant. It's now well on its way to the landfill too. The scrappers were removing the old iron-and-steel guts of this behemoth. The towering concrete walls are falling fast.

I'm a fan of industrial Baltimore, and I always thought this plant was a classic of the belching-fire-and-smoke variety. It never got the sort of attention paid to the Pratt Street Power Plant, which was constructed to power Baltimore's streetcars and is now the centerpiece of Power Plant Live.

The Kloman Street-Westport plant looked as if it could light 100,000 homes. At the time it opened nearly 100 years ago, it was Baltimore's largest source of electricity.

When built, the plant occupied a rural, bucolic waterfront site. Not far away were beer gardens and summer places. The city and heavy industry arrived fast, and Westport became established as a hardworking industrial neighborhood encircled by railroads, paint pigment plants, foundries and generating stations.

I'd have liked to have seen the old power plant reused for other purposes. Maybe some of it will be.

As I rode into the heart of the city, I could see the top of Silo Point, the old Locust Point grain elevator that is now a very snazzy address. I never thought it could happen, but now I realize that this amazing development will not be alone. Other towers will follow over the next dozen years.

Westport has the natural advantage of being a lot closer to the golden Washington employment market. I wonder how long the adjacent area - Port Covington, which also enjoys a major Patapsco shoreline - will remain underdeveloped.


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