Federal Hill takes its name from a big party Baltimoreans threw to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution, so it was only fitting that the park's face-lift be christened with another big bash.
City government and the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association did it up last night with a historical re-enactment marking significant periods in the park's history. The event featured a town crier, lots of historic photographs on display, balloons, a ribbon-cutting and a jazz band.
But the real star of the show was the park and its magnificent view of the Inner Harbor. A caretaker's shack that had been in the middle of the park was razed in the redesign and visitors, who were getting their first look since the park closed for construction in March, were amazed at the difference.
"It's like a rebirth of the hill," said Susan Murray, who lives near Patterson Park.
"It's uncluttered," said Lou Greis of Annapolis. "It was tight. It was closed in before. It was dark. This opens it up."
"The views and vistas just open up dramatically," said Richard Leitch, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, which worked on the design with the city.
"I really like what I see, but what I like even more is the process that led up to this," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said as he toured the park. "The government and the community worked in partnership to produce a real gem for the city and the neighborhood."
The park redesign was the last phase of a $1.9 million renovation, which included the stabilization of the north slope of the hill and reconstruction of the stone walls along Key Highway and Battery Avenue.
The redesign includes a new stone roadway and sidewalk, the construction of a stone caretaker's building in an unobtrusive corner of the park, and 47 new trees. The benches are based on a design that was used in Baltimore parks about 1905.
And in the center of the park is a large oval surrounded by a low, black wrought-iron fence, the park's designated dog-free zone.
"It's interesting this community divided on only one issue: dogs," said Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, who supervised the project and worked with the neighborhood association.
"Some people really love dogs and some people wanted a dog-free zone," he said.
Inside the dog-free zone is a small playground, which is the other element that drew the praise of many yesterday.
"Look at the number of kids here this evening," said Roger Fortner, gazing toward the play area, where children were swinging on swings and sliding down slides. "I've never seen more than four or five kids here at any one time and I live within a block of the park.
"It's being returned to the families, instead of being a place for people looking for a place to hang out, drink, listen to loud music and intimidate other people," he said.
Pat Harkins of Federal Hill, who was engaging her 6-year-old granddaughter, Caitlin, in a fierce game of tic-tac-toe on a 3-foot high contraption with triangular blocks, said she liked the idea of keeping dogs out of the play area.
"You feel secure letting the children play in here," she said. "You don't worry about them playing in the sand."
Bob Sala, a Federal Hill resident who took part in the re-enactment, was dressed in the uniform of the U.S. Corps of Artillery, the defenders of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Mr. Sala he looks forward to again having his battery mates over for his annual Fourth of July party. He canceled it this year because Federal Hill Park, the prime vantage point for the Inner Harbor fireworks show, was closed.
"We've been waiting a long time to get it back," he said.