In 1958, they began to tear down the rotting warehouses and derelict old factories around the downtown’s inner harbor to create a park and put up some hotels and new office buildings. In 1963, the original 33 acre redevelopment area was expanded to 240 acres.
Nonetheless, when I went there with a group of college student buddies, it was still pretty dingy. We were visiting the Gayety, the oldest remaining burlesque theater in Baltimore on The Block, an area of East Baltimore Street not far from City Hall that once thrived with vaudeville, burlesque and movie theaters, as well as with bars, nightclubs and restaurants. The Gayety was gutted by fire in 1969.
By July 4, 1976, the Inner Harbor was a fairly attractive place, and eight tall ships visited as part of the bicentennial celebration. Gradually more tourist attractions were added including the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center.
James W. Rouse was a developer of planned communities and shopping malls. But in the mid-1970s he began focusing on what he called festival marketplaces. He designed Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston first and later South Street Seaport in New York. In 1980, he created Harborplace in Baltimore. Time Magazine called him the “man who made cities fun again.”
Baltimore is fun. We just stopped there early one afternoon on our way to Philadelphia. We were too late for the cherry trees in Washington, but they were still out a few miles further north in Baltimore. We didn’t see much, but we had fun.
What we thought was a water tower was an 1823 “shot tower.” They dropped molten lead through holes at the top. As it fell, it rounded into shot and hardened when it hit water at the bottom. Modern manufacturers still use the same process, but their towers aren’t nearly as attractive.
We had enjoyed ourselves there in the 1980s, but now it was better than ever. One example of an improvement is an old 19th century factory once owned by my employer Allied Chemical, and then reduced to a “Superfund” hazardous waste site. It is now cleaned up and replaced by university buildings.
Always up for a tourist site, we revisited the submarine Torsk. Launched in late 1944, it sank the last enemy ship in World War II.
Nearby was the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Taney. Commissioned in 1936, it is the only naval vessel still afloat that was present in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked December, 7, 1941. The Taney was in continuous service until 1986.
When we visited in the mid-1970s, it was believed we were on the 1787 frigate Constellation, sister ship of the Constitution, “Old
Ironsides.” The keel for the sloop of war Constellation was laid in 1854. As the Navy’s records indicate the new ship was built under an appropriation for “rebuilding and repair,” it was long thought the new ship was a bigger remodeling of the old ship. The new ship served through World War II and was brought to Baltimore in 1955 in a floating drydock. Restorers in the 1960s and 1970s thought they were restoring the original ship and modified it. However, they weakened the structure, and finally a complete restoration was necessary. In 1990 the Navy determined the true history of the ship, and it was completely restored as the sloop of war, it was re-launched in 1998. It sailed back to the Naval Academy in 2005, its first visit in 90 years.
So we had never been on the longest serving ship in the U.S. Navy but rather a successor. The modern restoration, however, is one hundred times better than the first restoration. Alie even got to help take down the flag in the evening, a cool experience for an amateur historian.
Finally, we finished out our day with a pitcher of sangria and some tapas in a waterfront restaurant and a trip to Barnes and Noble in the refurbished old power plant.
We will go back to Baltimore some time for a longer visit.