If the unfortunate Hon-trademarking flap of 2010 wasn't enough to get Baltimore's beehive in a bunch, surely the news that city bureaucrats, without much thought about the matter, have proposed banning Formstone in new construction will do the trick.
Is Formstone a great aesthetic innovation? No. Was its proliferation several decades ago a failure of good taste? Maybe so. But if it was a failure, it was Baltimore's own. It was an affordable ornamentation, an expression of a blue collar optimism that things were on their way up and that our houses, even the modest attached variety, should reflect that faith in upward mobility. Like putting shag carpeting over hardwood floors, covering perfectly good brick with something artificial may seem odd, but it was, at heart, an expression of the instinct to improve upon what was given, to leave a mark more visible to the world than knotty pine in the basement.
And if it was, in the final analysis, tacky, Formstone does at least have the virtue of not being some pre-fab schlock. It is hand-made (dare we say, artisanal?) schlock. The people who clad so many Baltimore rowhouses in Formstone, and there are still a few of them around, did so with proprietary formulas and secret techniques. Every Formstone facade is different, and that is surely a mitigating factor in its favor. A painted screen door would only be unforgivable if it was mass-produced, and likewise, Formstone has something over aluminum or vinyl siding.