Protect this property

Our view

April 06, 2010

Overlooking the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill is more than a prominent piece of Baltimore geography. The hill is deeply rooted in this city's history, particularly for its role as a military installation during the Civil War when Union forces kept watch over a Confederate-sympathizing city.

Small wonder a considerable hue and cry arose when it was discovered that the Under Armour logo had been painted billboard-like on the grassy hillside amid the memorials and American flag including the company's familiar slogan, "Protect this house." Too bad city officials had not thought to "Protect this precious property from commercial exploitation."

No offense to Under Armour, a highly successful Baltimore-based sports apparel company that has made this community proud, but how in the world did the city Recreation and Parks department think for a minute that this was an appropriate thing to allow? What's next, the Washington Monument and Shot Tower repainted as ads for Levitra?

The company sought to have its logo painted on Federal Hill to welcome participants to a volleyball tournament last weekend. Officials likely took a cue from the Ravens logo that was painted on the same hillside during last winter's National Football League playoff run.

In retrospect, that may not have been the best choice either. It's one thing to bathe city landmarks in purple lights to support the Ravens; it's another to open buckets of paint and start spraying away. But at least the Ravens can be justified as something of a civic institution (albeit a for-profit one). To our knowledge, Baltimoreans aren't shelling out thousands of dollars for personal seat licenses to see Under Armour employees play football, baseball or anything else.

But here's the topper: Baltimore has a law explicitly banning "general advertising signs" in publicly owned open spaces such as parks or athletic fields. It's been on the books for three years. The parks department and its interim director should probably take note of it as abiding by the law is generally considered an important part of any government job.

The best thing that can be said of the episode is that at least Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has admitted to the error. A spokesman has vowed that it will not be repeated. That's good to hear, especially since there are a lot of other solemn Baltimore landmarks that could be defaced.

Baltimore's history and traditions ought not be taken lightly — even by those with the most honorable of intent. If city government won't protect our shared heritage, who will?

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