BALTIMORE AS I KNEW IT

By J E Firth <triestus@msn.com>
September 11, 2003

      It is circa 1934 and I am standing at the intersection of N.Charles and Baltimore Sts. It's such a beautiful day that I have decided to take a leisurely stroll up Charles St. I've invited several others to go along. I'm wearing a pull-over sweater, knickers, (adults call them plus-fours when they wear them) golf-type stockings, black shoes and a cap. (can't wait 'til I'm 16 so I can get long pants). Some of the older fellows (not many of them!) are wearing white-duck trousers and saddle shoes. The girls are wearing blouses and skirts, anklets and saddles. Their skirts are modest in length.

     Before we start our walk, let me tell you about the area. Baltimore and Charles Sts. is literally the "center" of Baltimore. It is from here north-south and east-west is determined when referring to streets. ie. E. Baltimore St., W. Baltimore St., etc. It is also known as "Sun Square" because on the S.W corner is the home of the Sun Newspapers. (They built a new building on Calvert St. many years ago). Notice the electric sign going all around the building displaying the latest news; just like The Times in N.Y.C. That beautiful building on the S.E. corner is The Savings Bank of Baltimore. Note the massive columns. Inside, is nothing but marble, marble, and marble! (It is now vacant). That old-looking building on the N.W. corner is the B&O Railroad headquarters. We are standing on the N.E corner next to The Hub Dept store.

       I want to get started but there are so many interesting things about this intersetion. If you scan the east, south ,and west directions, the area you see and beyond all the way to the harbor were complelely devasted by The Great Baltimore Fire of February 1903. The fire completely leveled nearly 1800 blocks, destoying over 1400 buildings. Peek around the corner of The Hub and looking east down Baltimore Street you can see Thomas & Thompson's drugstore at the corner of Light Street; they have the longest soda fountain in the city and always have a punchbowl of graham crackers on the counter just for the taking when you order a "short chocolate." You can't see it, but just south of them is the Southern Hotel (now gone many years ago). Also, directly across from the drug store is the Baltimore Trust Bldg, the tallest bldg in the city.(It later was called several other names such as The Matheson Bldg., O'Sullivan Bld.) Don't ask me how I know, but thousands will gather here in 1945 celebrating VJ Day. What's VJ Day you ask? You'll find out in about 11 years. But enough of this dallying, we must get started on our walk! Just be careful and not jaywalk because Charles is a two-way street. I hope your shoes are comfortable; don't want any blisters in the group.
       
We are walking north and coming to Fayette Street. If you glance to your left you can see Miller Brothers restaurant, one of finest in the city. Let's cross and head up to Lexington. This shop at 111 is S&N Katz jewelery. Look in the window admire the display but don't linger long. The building on the SW corner is O'Neils Department Store. It suffered considerable damage from the fire.   Glancing to your left, you can just about see Huylers Ice Cream and Candy Store. A nice place to go after the movie and stage show at the Loews Century Theatre next door. Careful while we cross Lexington. Hey! There's Mr. Peanut handing out samples of hot peanuts. Notice that strange looking building on the corner. It's shaped just like the "flat iron" building in New York. Don't recall the name. Let's walk.

     This is the 200 block of Charles. Notice McDowells on our right? They feature very expensive oriental and Kashmir rugs. On the other side of the street is Lane Bryant. They feature larger sizes of clothing for the ladies. Also, I believe that's Bonwit Teller nearby.   Again to our right, at 225, is the Masonic Temple. Quite an imposing building with the two pillers in front. (It was gutted in 1998 or so and they moved to the Hunt Valley area; Bonnie Blink to be exact.) That large building on the southeast corner of Saratoga Street is The Metropolitan Bank. (The building was razed several years ago.) Let's cross Saratoga and head up to Mulberry!

     That's Hopper-McGraw on the corner over there. They excel in featuring fancy groceries and imported foods; caviar for example. The weathly from Duluney Valley shop there often accompanied by their chauffers. If you continue to your left, you might catch a glimpse of The Calvert Hall School (they moved out also) and the corner of the Enoch Pratt Library. While we're walking down to Franklin, I'd like to mention that Baltimore was very fortunate to have in its city, some very prosperous merchants who were very generous and donated money to enhance the culture of our city. These included William Thompson Walters, Enoch Pratt, who made possible the library we caught a glimpse of, George Peabody and Johns Hopkins.

     This is Franklin Street: look in the show window of the store at our right. All that gorgeous silverware, bowls and vases. All handcrafted! This is the Stieff Company, silversmiths extraodinaire. (Note: Maybe I'm wrong, it could be Samuel Kirk; any way they merged and became Stieff-Kirk, still extant) I'm sure it has caught your attention already, but take particular note of that building on the NW corner of Franklin. Reminds you of a greek or byzantine temple. That's the First Unitarian Church. In 1819, at its dedication and the ordination of Jared Sparks its minister, William Ellery Channing (said to be the father of Unitarianism in the U.S.) gave a sermon that was said to be "heard around the world." That rounded dome is made of copper hence the green patina. (I saw it recently. It has been painted completely white. It's horrible! Reminds me of someone painting a car with a brush.) By the way, if we look to the right, down to St. Paul Street, you should be able to visualize a huge viaduct by-passing the traffic below. I know you can't see it; it not there yet!! But take my word that it will be there some day and will be known as the Orleans Street Viaduct.           
That store across Franklin on the
northeast corner is Bensons, a fairly exclusive furniture store. Let's cross Franklin and head down to Center. HEY! WATCH IT DON HARDESTY! Franklin's a two-way street.

     Don't know anything about this mid-block street we're passing other than it's called Hamilton Terrace.

     This is Center Street; that shop on the southwest corner is Campbells. They specialize in outdoor furniture, garden statuary and specialties for the garden. A very interesting place. But look over there on the northwest corner; that's The Walters Art Gallery. It was endowed by William Thompson Walters, the philanthropist who I mentioned earlier. It houses valuable art collections consisting of oil paintings, statuary, and artifacts collected from all over the world. Center Street is also the beginning of Mt. Vernon Place. Since the east side of Charles Street is mostly private homes, some modified to serve as apartments, let's cross over to the center park and make our way through the park.

     Up ahead is an interesting little fellow that's been standing in the middle of that pool for many a year; he's naked but that doesn't stop him from waving to us as we make our way up the hill to the Washington Monument standing in the middle of Mt. Vernon Place. There's George at the top. He's been there since 1829 when the monument ws completed by subscription, having been started nine years earlier. Don Hardesty tells me he likes to take his favorite girls to the top and steal a kiss or two. Notice there are actually two intersecting parks; one extending north and south, the other east and west. I used to play in these parks when I first came to Baltimore two years ago. Looking east toward St. Paul Street on the southside of the park is The Peabody School of Music, endowed by the merchant and philanthropist, George Peabody. I lived just across from the park. Come here in May and you'll find The Flower Mart in full bloom sponsored by the Ladies Junior Leaque. They sell lemons with peppermint sticks stuck in them. A real big time favorite with the kids (and adults). All in the name of charity of course. In the future (my ESP tells me this) it will have to be postponed a couple of years because of rowdyness and vandalism. How sad. Before we leave, look westerly through the park and you'll see the Alcazar on the next street which is Cathedral. Look even further past Park Avenue, and with good eyesight, you might spot The Boy's Vocational School. Can't see it from here, but Loews Stanley Theatre is just south of that school on Howard Street. Before we continue our walk, notice that large church on the northeast corner. That's the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church. On that site, Francis Scott Key wrote his poem The Star Spangled Banner from notes made at Fort McHenry .

     Okay, let's move on down through the park to Madison Street (not Avenue).

     This is the end of Mt. Vernon Place and Charles Street begins again. But who's this guy on a horse at the end of the park? Why that's General LaFayette with his right arm pointing toward the east. Because of this, the story goes that motorists going south on Charles perceive this to be a signal to keep to the left. They find themselves going the wrong way. After all, Charles is two-way street. The only problem, they are on the wrong side of the road. As we pass Madison, we have to get back on the sidewalk and proceed up to Read Street.          

      If you look down Read Street to the west, you can see a very large building at the corner of Cathedral Street. That's the Medical Arts Building. If you need a good doctor, you'll probably find one there. That's the old Albion Hotel on the other corner.(Believe it has condos today) Notice the drugstore on the northwest corner of Charles; that's MacGillivrary's, a fine store. (An aside -- It's still there today, trading under the same name, but it looks like a liquor store you'd expect to see in the slums.)   That large building facing us on the northeast corner is the Latrobe Apartments. Very nice place to live. Let's cross Read and proceed up to Eager Street. CAREFUL CLYDE MERRITT! You're really too young to be on this trip. Take his hand Bob Roush and see that he doesn't get lost or into trouble.

       Proceeding toward Eager we'll pass pass a few small shops. (one will be the Peobody Book Store in a couple of years) Well, we're at Eager Street. Really not much of interest here except that place on the corner to your left. That's the Chanticleer, one of the first night clubs to open after Prohibition was repealed two years ago. Look at that big rooster on top; he's really huge!!! It's getting late. Let's go up to Chase.

     Now this is an interesting corner. On the corner to your left is the facility of Hynson-Westcott-Dunning. They are a very prestigous manufacturer of pharmaceuticals. You know that red stuff your mother puts on your cut finger? That's an antiseptic called Mercurochrome and they invented it right there in that building. (An aside -- They were grabbed up by a large pharmaceutical company many years ago; could have been Squibb or Merck) That huge building facing us is the Monumental Life Insurance headquarters. Looks like something out of ancient Rome doesn't it? And what about this monster of a building next to us? This is the Belvedere Hotel!   Strange architecture, but a beautiful structure. Don't ask me how I know, but in about forty years this place wll be sandblasted and made to appear as new and converted into condos. Of course, you don't know what that means. Cross over and we'll proceed to Biddle Street.

     That restaurant on the corner is called the Riviera and is owned by a chap named Otto Kleinschmidt. Modest place, but the food isn't too bad. (An aside -- In the early forties, Otto married a woman who operated a dry cleaning store next door. She was Jewish and being a German, Otto took a lot of heat from some of his "friends." Also, many more years after that, Otto sold the place. It became Danny's, a very popular restaurant for many years). Looking west on Biddle is The Ramsey Street School of Acting hosed in one of those brownstones. Across the street, on Charles, intermixed among those Brownstone homes and apartments are a couple of shops. Both are exclusive establishments catering to wealthy clientel; one is Madame Rosenblatt, a corsetiere and the other is Wolf Cohn's, featuring exclusive women's apparel. Let's move down a little further. This building is the Anneslie Apartments, a so-so place, but it does have an elevator, a rarity in some of these apartment buildings. Notice the empty lot next door; some time ago several years before my time in Baltimore, it was the site of the Lyceum Theatre which burned down several years ago and nothing was ever built in its place. Let's go to about the middle of the block. On your right is a store with a sign in the window that says "RAINBOW CLEANERS" and another sign saying Archer's Laundry. You're saying to yourselves, "so what?" Hey, kids THIS IS WHERE I WORK!   Every day after school I come here and walk at least ten blocks in any direction delivering suits, dresses and laundry. Man, I get a whole dollar a week! Plus tips; but not many. Remember when we were up at Biddle Street? Well, I make deliveries to a house in the east 200 block that some day will be famous. I make deliveries to the Warfield's home where Wallis Simpson Warfield lived. I know; so what! your're thinking. My ESP capability tells me she will divorce her husband and later become the Duchess of Windsor after marrying the abdicated King Edward of England. Believe me it will happen!

     Let's move down to Preston Street. (In the 1980's , the east side of this 1200 block , including Loyola Bldg & Loan, will be complelely razed with the exception of the Anneslie Apts and The Riviera and become a parking lot). Before we cross, that big building on the corner is the Pythian Building. It is the home of a fraternal organization known as The Knights of Pythias. (An aside -- In a couple of years the lower level will become The Club Charles, a popular night spot.) Also notice that store across Charles Street; that's Gaston's, a caterer and a fancy bakery. His name is actually Gaston Ansel, a Swiss. His ice cream leaves a coating on your lips like you have just eaten a quarter pound of butter. Yum! Looking to the west on Preston, you can see an old beautiful church at the corner of Maryland Avenue. It reminds you of an ancient Grecian building doesn't it? Too bad it's empty. (Several years later it was acquired by the Greek orthodoxy, and it has been operating prosperously as The Greek Orthodox Church to the present day.) To the east on Preston, note the small A&P store; Mr. Siera has been its manager for several years and always gives me an apple or banana when I go in on an errand for someone. He only has one clerk, Herman Farber, helping him. (Years later, Herman became a successful furniture dealer in Virginia.) One more block to go kids; up to Mt. Royal Avenue.

     After crossing Preston, we pass a drugstore, a barbershop and two eateries. One is called the Vienna and the other is The Plaza. (The owner of the former was a relative of the owner of The Riviera which we passed at Biddle Street. Being German, he really got into trouble in the late 30's or early 40's when he made some derogatory remarks about Jews. Many Jews and Gentiles boycotted the restaurant which eventually put him out of business.) Well, this is Mt. Royal Avenue. Across the street is the Arundle Hotel on the west. Looking further west you can see the Lyric Theater. It's been closed for several years. (In the 70's 0r 80's it was renovated and used for concerts, musicals, etc. to the present day) Just opposite the theatre is the Mt. Royal Station of the B&O. Trains leaving Camden Station heading for New York and points north stop here for additional passengers after coming out of the tunnel under Howard Street. (I believe the Maryland Institute of Art presently uses it as part of their facilities.) That's the Mar-Del Building on the northwest corner of Charles. You can see that the lower floor is occupied by Kelly Buick. (The owner, C. Markland Kelley, a few years later became president of Baltimore City Council with Howard W. Jackson as Mayor.) The upper floor is home to the Annual Baltimore Flower Show. The drugstore on the Northeast corner is Peoples Drugstore. (A few years later it was taken over by Reads.)

       Well kids, I'm tired and ready to go home. We have walked 13 blocks and I suspect you're tired too. Don't get lost going home! Hey Bob, take care of Clyde Merritt and see he gets home safely. As for me, I'm going to the Little Tavern just around the corner and get myself a hamburger, a piece of pie and a glass of milk for 15 cents. Then I'll go next door to the Zell Motors Showroom and admire their beautiful new 1934 Packards. After that, IT'S BACK TO THE FUTURE! I want to see my kids and my grandchildren!           

EPILOGUE: I hope those who stayed long enough to complete reading this epistle enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. With the exception of the statistics on the Baltimore Fire, I used no reference books or data. I wrote as I recalled it.

John E. Firth
Pasadena, Maryland
.
"If we forget the past, there can be no future because the past is the foundation upon which the future is built." JEF March 25, 2001

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