Those going to this weekend's Fells Point Fun Festival might consider a farewell appreciative look at the Moran tugboats that tie up alongside Recreation Pier at the foot of Broadway. They might not be around next year if this site begins a long-discussed transformation into a waterfront hotel.
If an agreement hatched at the city's Board of Estimates goes as planned, Moran could relocate farther down the harbor on Clinton Street out of sight from Fells Point.
For as long as I can recall, those dark red tugs have darted around the harbor and tied up here. They had geographically evocative names, like Cape Henlopen. I considered them, docked alongside the 1914 building, as treasures of Baltimore.
Old cities such as Baltimore are always changing - it's just that when the tugs have been in one place for so long, it seems like forever. They certainly made for one of the most romantic and atmospheric waterfront vistas in Baltimore, one the city seemed to celebrate by building walkways so you could observe the harbor scene better. I'll miss them a lot. Their departure diminishes the Fells Point experience.
I cannot be surprised. In 50 years of harbor watching, I've seen the city industrial character vanish as the oldest parts of the port make the transition from stevedoring to showplace.
There were few more beautiful sights in the city than the old Key Highway ship repair yard at night. What seemed like 10 million little electric lights filled the dry docks and traveling cranes.
In the same vein, the eastward views from Federal Hill Park were once awe-inspiring. Now they are largely blocked by the ironically named Harborview development. (You could argue the tower and townhouse residents are the ones with the dazzling views.) The park's north- and west-facing vistas remain unchallenged.
Not far from the Moran tugs was a working railroad line that operated on Fells Point streets. After a few pints at a Bond Street bar, you would wonder what was happening when the diesel switcher appeared, seemingly out of the ether, and shifted freight cars along the cobblestoned streets.
Only night owls realized that freight still moved by rail cars around the harbor into the 1980s. Rails, often confused as streetcar tracks, were set into the beds of Key Highway, Pratt and Light streets. Before the harbor's gentrification, there was industry there.
On visits to Fort McHenry, I was fascinated by the view across the harbor of the Pennsylvania Railroad's coal pier. This elevated steel structure resembled a boardwalk amusement ride. Coal cars circulated around a complicated track. The cars seemed like energetic little bugs that never stopped working.
I often wonder how much longer the Domino plant will remain in operation in its current configuration as a sugar mill. The bulk cargo ships that bring the raw sugar into port are the last vessels of any size to sail so far up the Patapsco River. Cargo ships once filled the piers on what is now the city's high-priced real estate. I can still see the United Fruit Co.'s so-called banana boats attired in their tropical white hulls where the Constellation is now berthed.
And yet, who would have foreseen Baltimore's emergence as a major tourist depot for Caribbean holiday cruises?