When hotel roof gardens were a cool destination

The Lord Baltimore Hotel recently announced that its 19th-story-high “rooftop deck,” better known as the LB Skybar, will open for its third season on April 21.

Before they were called “rooftop decks,” they were known as roof gardens, and were a common feature of upscale hotels across the world.

Several long-gone Baltimore hotels such as the Emerson, which stood at Baltimore and Calvert streets, had a roof garden that provided guests and those out for a big night on the town “splendid views of the Patapsco and the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, [and] was an exciting venue for lovers dancing the latest jazz tunes during the Golden ’20s,” reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1997 article.

Perhaps the most revered roof garden in Baltimore was the Spanish Villa atop the old Southern Hotel that opened in 1918 at Light and Redwood streets.

The Spanish Villa, 14 stories above the clanging streetcar bells and roar of the traffic, was, with its canvas awnings and trellises, the venue for parties and dances.

Patent-leather-haired sheiks and gorgeous marcel-waved shebas danced to the music of Lew Becker’s Orchestra, whose theme song was “In a Little Spanish Town,” and listened to vocalist “blonde Mitzi O’Neill” sing the latest popular songs.

“We were out in the open; there was dancing under the stars. On moonlit summer evenings you could dine by the dance floor, look up and see the moon and stars, look down and see the Inner Harbor and the twinkling lights of excursion boats ... the City of Norfolk, the Smokey Joe ferry to Love Point, the Bay Belle. It was a beautiful sight,” recalled Walter Kloetzli, the former maitre d’ at the Spanish Villa, in a 1982 Sun interview.

The Spanish Villa closed in 1940; and the Southern 24 years later. It was demolished in 1999.


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