Pagoda rises from neglect

Pagoda rises from neglect
Repairs: Workers repair the outside of Patterson Park's pagoda. "It's about time they do something with it," said Sean White of Butchers Hill. (Sun photo by Jerry Jackson)
Significant but delicate renovation work on Patterson Park's historic pagoda should soon be finished, opening one of the city's oldest and grandest observation towers to climbing for the first time in 10 years.

"The pagoda is the symbol for Paterson Park, it has a sentimental appeal," said Nancy Supik, president of Friends of Patterson Park. "It is the focal point of the park and has a tremendous view of the Baltimore Harbor and downtown."

The narrow, four-story pagoda was a place where men proposed marriage and where couples shared a first kiss, she said.

The six-month restoration of the 60-foot-tall, octagonal pagoda, which was built in 1891 and stands on the park's highest peak, should be finished in February. It will cost $500,000 in city, state and private funds.

The structure is getting a paint job, reinforced balconies and new windows. Its trademark spiral staircase inside will be refurbished.

It is part of a $3 million master plan for Patterson Park, which should be finished by the end of next year. It includes new lighting, renovation of the boat lake, fountain and flagpole, as well as landscaping.

Supik said she hopes the pagoda will become a destination for locals, tourists and schoolchildren visiting the park again. She envisions a small coffee, bagel and lemonade stand there.

The structure is tucked in the western edge of the wide, rolling lawn of the 28-acre park, which is bordered by the Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods of Butchers Hill, Canton and Highlandtown.

Sean White, who has lived in Butchers Hill for 18 years and walks his pit bull, Bean, in the park every day, said he can remember being inside the pagoda when it was briefly open years ago.

"It's about time they do something with it," said White, 33. "A lot of people who come to the park now look at it and wonder what it is."

The Asian motif structure was designed by Charles Hazlehurst Latrobe, chief engineer for the Jones Falls Commission for more than two decades, who was said to have improved Baltimore's railways and streets.

He also was an engineer for Paterson Park, where he improved drainage and contracted to build the pagoda for $18,475.

The hill on which the pagoda sits, Hampstead Hill, is a historic spot where in 1814, citizen volunteers gathered during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry.

The pagoda has had many incarnations since it was built 110 years ago, even housing a police substation in the 1930s and 1940s until it fell into disrepair.

It has been boarded up and its door nailed shut on and off over the years. The city's park board and Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin threatened to tear down the tower in 1964 unless it was repaired. The structure has been renovated since then, but vandals and neglect have left its windows broken and paint faded.

Bob Wall, Patterson Park's recreation programmer who has been working in the park since 1973, said he remembers going to the observation deck as a child and seeing the picturesque view. Recently, he said, the pagoda has been somewhat of a safety concern.

"It's been locked and boarded up for years," Wall said. "There's always been a concern whether someone would do arson to it."

The city's Department of Recreation and Parks is in charge of the renovation work, which is being done by Baltimore-based Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc.

Gennedy Schwartz, the chief of capital development for recreation and parks, said the department has been working on the master plan for five years.

"We've been waiting a long time for this," Schwartz said. "We had to determine what would be a priority. The pagoda is a priority. It is such a dominant feature in the park. It will give the image that the park is coming back."