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Walking tours give close look at city's history


Attention, fans of old Baltimore!

We've now got a walking tour that explains the origins and lore of the Gayety burlesque house on The Block.

The Gayety's secrets will emerge over the next seven weeks during a spring calendar set with many lectures, exhibits and walking tours -- all with neighborhood and history as themes.

It is not often that historian Robert K. Headley Jr. gives a comprehensive walking tour of Baltimore's ancient but surviving temples of old Hollywood, Broadway and the strip-tease circuit.

His pilgrimage is called, "Baltimore's Movie Theatres: You've Heard of the Mayfair, But What about the Wizard?," and is sponsored by Baltimore Heritage, a preservation society.

Alas, none of the former theaters on Headley's tour will be open for inspection.

This walk, set for May 7, begins at 10 a.m. at the corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets. It stretches as far north as Howard and Franklin streets, but people who don't like to hoof it should skip this one.

Bob Headley, who now lives near Hyattsville, grew up in Baltimore and spent various portions of his childhood in Westport, Irvington, Forest Park and Catonsville.

These presentations are an excellent way to learn about our city.

When pressed, he confides his favorite Baltimore theater was the city's greatest art deco house, the Ambassador, on Liberty Heights Avenue.

"Of all the surviving downtown theaters, I hope the Mayfair and the Hippodrome will be reopened, saved and restored," he said.

Who could argue with that wish?

The stories of the Gayety, the Idle Hour, the New and Keith's are part of these April-May-June talks.

These presentations are an excellent way to learn about our city.

"It must have been the most distinctive skyline in America, probably the only distinctive skyline in America," said Charles Duff of 1840s Baltimore.

Duff, a board member of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, will be speaking on three separate occasions at the Walters Art Gallery, 600 N. Charles St.

"The greatest works of architecture are our streets [lined with rowhouses], not individual buildings," he said. His talks at the Walters are set for 6:15 p.m. on April 27 (19th century Architecture), May 4 (Mount Vernon Place) and May 11 (West Baltimore).

The presentations will be illustrated with unusual and rare early photographs.

The Clifton Mansion in Northeast Baltimore's Clifton Park is the setting of a May 9 talk at 5:30 p.m. by architect Randolph Chalfant.

He will discuss the work of J. Rudolph Niernsee and J. Crawford Nielson. These two gave us Camden Station, the great tower at the College of Notre Dame, the Gothic Revival funeral chapel at Green Mount Cemetery and the Clifton Mansion.

Chalfant will discuss how these architects fit their work into the matrix of the old city.

"That tower in the billowing trees is unforgettable," Mr. Chalfant said of the Clifton Mansion's great landmark tower, a structure visible all over the east side of the city.

The part of lower Charles Village around St. Paul and 22nd streets recently was named the Goucher Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was here that Goucher College was founded and flourished through the 1940s.

An exhibition of this neighborhood opens May 4 at the AIA Gallery, 11 W. Chase St. There is also a walking tour of the streets that Goucher students once walked. It is set for June 3 at 10 a.m.

Fans of modern architecture should note a Maryland Historical Society exhibit on the work of the late Alexander Cochran, opening May 12 at 8 p.m. with remarks by architectural historian and writer Christopher Weeks.

On April 29, a van tour of interesting modern residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (the Macht House), Marcel Breuer (the Hooper House at Lake Roland), Alexander Cochran, and Mark Beck begins at 1 p.m.. The tour has been organized by FTC the staff of the Evergreen House of the Johns Hopkins University. Call 516-0341 for information and reservations.

More details, as well as lists of related activities -- tours of Hampden-Woodberry, Federal Hill, Mount Vernon Place, Old St. Paul's Cemetery -- can be found at the Baltimore Architecture Foundation-American Institute of Architects, 11 W. Chase St., 625-2585.

Many of the talks and tours require a paid admission.

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