A fugitive fragrance of cinnamon is all that remains where McCormick once stood

I closed my eyes, inhaled gently and imagined hard, but the Timonium traffic din quickly short-circuited the conceit that placed me at the Inner Harbor. How silly; maybe more than most, I knew the lovely nutmeg scent wafting downwind from the McCormick plant two miles north hadn't perfumed the downtown air for over two decades.

On Dec. 8, 1988, the McCormick Spice Company announced it would abandon its landmark Inner Harbor building and the Rouse Company would tear it down. The lawsuit I filed and the "Demolition Makes No Scents" campaign I spearheaded for Baltimore Heritage quickly turned legions of citizens into historic preservationists. I've seen nothing to rival that reaction in all my 30-plus years of advocacy, and certainly not for a building as vernacular as the spice plant.

But it really wasn't about the building. Intense civic pride for McCormick, homegrown and world-renowned, fueled the losing fight that concluded with another chink in Baltimore City's eroding industrial legacy.

Less than a mile southeast from where McCormick stood, the displays in the Baltimore Museum of Industry recount the story of what we invented, innovated and fashioned, often out-producing other cities in straw hats, umbrellas, men's suits, raincoats, bottle caps, silver flatware, canned oysters, coal, beer and soap.

It's tough now, though, to tally the number of factories still humming in Baltimore City. Some companies moved away to the county or even farther to cut costs. Others merged out of existence. Whatever the reason, the industrial drain sucked away large numbers of jobs employing citizens across a wide spectrum of education and experience. But the spice building could have found new life beyond McCormick.

I lost my lawsuit because the judges on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered the McCormick factory building worthless. Demolition commenced in June 1989, but the building put up a valiant, months-long fight as the wrecking ball much more often bounced off than landed solid blows. The Rouse Company, contending the building needed to come down for "immediate soil testing" in advance of new construction, never built a thing. Since then, this parcel has cost the citizens of Baltimore City dearly in uncollected property taxes on improvements (structures) that were never built.

A 2007 Sun article detailed yet another new scheme for the vacant site, but it made no mention of McCormick, a factory so handsome the company long-featured it on their packaging. Were it still standing, it no doubt would be a hot harbor condominium by now.

Instead, all that's left is a vacant lot and memories of visits to Ye Olde McCormick Tea House, though some people swear they can still smell a fleeting, fugitive fragrance of cinnamon.

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, Baltimore

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