Thanks to an ongoing renovation project in Locust Point, a Glen Burnie landmark that burned down more than 40 years ago is making a comeback. A small-scale comeback, to be sure, and one that probably won't result in anything more than a few smiles and maybe a story or two from old-timers who can remember when, but that's the way history works sometimes.
Painted on an outside second-story wall of a building at the corner of Hull Street and Fort Avenue is a wonderfully preserved billboard for The Barn, for decades an institution on Ritchie Highway (near 8th Avenue) in northern Anne Arundel County. The giant ad lauds the restaurant's banquet facilities ("up to 1100"), entices diners with a ribbon proclaiming "House of Beef," promises "red carpet catering" and proudly notes, "credit cards honored."
There's also an "NAC" charge card logo (though long gone, NAC was one of this area's premier charge cards for years) and an oval noting The Barn's approval by the American Automobile Association. (Happily, unlike The Barn and NAC, AAA is still around.)
For decades, The Barn was a favorite gathering spot in Glen Burnie. Civic groups held their meetings there. Wedding receptions were commonplace, as were political gatherings -- in 1972, the night after Alabama Gov. George Wallace was shot in a Laurel parking lot while campaigning in Maryland for the Democratic presidential nomination, some 400 of his supporters gathered at The Barn for a campaign dinner.
"It was a landmark, for sure," says Vic Sulin, 74, a former assistant state's attorney for Anne Arundel County and Glen Burnie urban renewal director. "It was a big white thing, it really did look like a barn. It was probably one of the prettiest buildings along that strip, as I recall."
"They always had good food," says Michael Gilligan, 74, who represented Glen Burnie on the Anne Arundel County Council from 1982-1990 and remembers The Barn as being quite the gathering spot. "It was a good place."
A 1952 ad in The Sun, touting restaurant recommendations from "The Gabby Gourmet," heaped praise on The Barn's oyster offerings. "Why go to New Orleans for Antoine's Oysters Rockefeller?" Gabby wondered. "The Barn has 'em ready to burst their plump little hearts out at your slightest whim."
The Barn's proud run came to an ignominious end the morning of Jan. 20, 1974, when a four-alarm fire burned it nearly to the ground. The blaze, which lit the sky for more than four hours before finally being brought under control and caused an estimated $400,000 in damage, was one of a series of "suspicious" fires that destroyed several Glen Burnie restaurants over a five-year period. Law enforcement officials theorized they were part of "underworld attempts to control the area's tavern business," The Sun reported. Federal agents were brought in to help in the investigation, and charges were eventually leveled against several suspects, but nothing was ever proven.
Sadly, The Barn never reopened. But at least until the renovations on Hull Street are complete, its advertisement lives on.