A major seaport in the 18th century, by the 1940's Baltimore's Inner Harbor had become nothing but rowsof abandoned warehouses. Then, a series of renovation efforts from the 50's through the 80's transformed the area into a worldwide tourist attraction, winnning over 40 awards and influencing over 100 other cities to make similar improvements. In 1984 the American Institute of Architects called it “one of the supreme achievements of large-scale urban design and development in U.S. history.” With the National Aquarium, The Baltimore Science center, The World Trade center and the Harborplace shopping malls surrounding the inlet, plus the floating Maritime museum, USS Tork submarine and the USS Constalation, there's always plently to do for everyone.
Baltimore row homes fill many of the older working class neighborhoods. These narrow homes were built for economy and yet they came with elegant white marble stoops (no porch). Marble was plentiful from quarries in Cockeysville and added an inexpensive touch of class. Generations of Baltimoreans have spent summer days scrubbing the marble to keep it nice. Famed photogrpaher A. Audrey Bodine took the award winning picture shown on the right.
Painted Screens & Stained Glass Transoms
Another common feature that gave working-class neighborhood homes a touch of sophistication is the stained glass transom. Most row homes have (or had) stained glass above the front door displaying the house number. Many also had a strip of stained glass above other windows. Sometimes all downstairs windows, and even basement windows were adorned with these colorful displays. Another common adornment, this time from the residents instead of the builders, was painted screens. These are much less common now but at one time almost every home in the city had at least the front door screen painted and the choice of painting often said something about the occupents. The most common images were of ships or seashores; understandable given the Chesapake Bay's importance to the economy of the area both as a source of jobs, and as an area for recreation.
Baltimore is not the only city to have Wall Murals but like our monuments we do it bigger and better. Most of the murals say something about the city or the neighbordhood they are in. This shows the pride that the people have in their hometown. There are murals depicting famous Baltimoreans like Eubie Blake and Justice Thurgood Marshall, Baltimore acheivements like the B&O railroad and even the heritage of individual neighborhoods like the image of pigs being hearded through 'Pigtown'. Plus the recent addition of 20 (so far) LOVE murals by Baltimore artist and MICA graduate Michael Owen.
In 2005 the city sponsored the "Crabtown Project" as part of the "Believe in Our Schools" camapign. 200 of these 5-foot tall, 75 pound fiberglass crabs were available for local companies to sponsor. The crabs were decorated, displayed around the city and eventually auctioned off with proceeds going to help Baltimore City Schools. Many of the auction winners have kept them on public display so it's still possible to see a few dozen of them while wandering the Inner Harbor or visiting other tourist areas. A few years earlier, this same process was used in the 2001 `Fish Out of Water' project. Many of these Fish sculptures also remain in public areas in and around the Inner Harbour.
Painted Brick Walls
These have become rare. Some would say that's a good thing, but still it's something you probably would not have seen anywhere else in the world. I'm referring to painting a brick wall to look like....well...... a brick wall. In the early part of the 20th century, when the bricks on the older row homes began to fade, it was common practice to paint the wall brick red and then re-stripe the grout with an off-white or light gray. From a distance it looked like a new brick wall but up close you could see the smooth texture of the paint. There were even painting contractors who specialized in 'brick striping'. (If you have a better picture or an ad for a painter specializing in the practice. If you know of either, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Purple Flamingoes (& Black & Orange)
Like many other American cities in the 60's, suburban homes in Baltimore had plastic pink flamingos adorning numerous front lawns. Over time, the birds lost popularity and became rare. But two things happened that have spawned something of a resurgance. First, the remake Jon Waters "Hairsrpay", reminding people of a fun if kitschy time in our recent past, and second, the popularity of the Ravens football team. Stores began selling flamingos in 'Raven's Purple', and later in the orange and black of the Orioles (also the state colors). "Pink" flamingoes have made a small resurgence but it's now more likely you'll see purple, orange and black ones throughout Maryland suburbia.
34th Street in Hampden
You would be hard pressed to find a whole city block anywhere in the country that takes Christmas decorating more seriously than 34th street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore City. Every year every house on both sides of the street puts on a display that atrracts thousand of visitors. There's no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to walk around this brightly lit area on a December evening along with a few hundred friends and neighbors. There's usually hot drinks and cookies being sold for charity and most of the time it's cold enough to encourage brisk sales. It's especially fun to watch the young kids wide-eyed with wonder as they walk, or run, from one great display to another and another and another. Look for the fan-favorite hubcap tree!
Sometimes called the industry that saved Baltimore, the Health Care industry became a major employeer long before Beth-Steel declared bankruptcy and the GM plant closed. The stand-out among the 36 area hospitals has to be the world renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital which attracts people from all over the world. Hopkins was rated #1 by U.S. News for 21 of the past 22 years ranking in the top 10 for Cancer, Cardiology, Ophthalmology, Geriatrics, Urology and 10 other specialites. University of Maryland, Franklin Square, Mercy and Good Samaritan are among to 9 other area hospitals ranked high performing in 10 or more specialties.
There is some debate over the oft told story that Duckpins began in Baltimore around 1900. But there is little doubt that then Baltimore Orioles and future baseball Hall of Famers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson introduced duckpins at a Baltimore bowling, billiards and pool hall that they owned. Nor is there any doubt that Baltimore took to the sport like crabs to water. It is still very popular throughout Baltimore, especially as a kids Birthday Party venue. Duckpin Bowling was one of young Babe Ruth's favorite pastimes.
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