The Maryland Club's Mission

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gone are the Monday Club, the Baltimore Club, the Columbus Club, the Gramercy Club and even the Handsome Young Men's Club. All were on the rollicking itinerary of Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe on New Year's Day, 1892, as he and other city notables made the rounds. The first stop on his all-day celebration, which he assured his wife was abstemious except for one whiskey punch, was at the white marble palace the Maryland Club had just opened at Charles and Eager Streets.

Today the Maryland Club still stands at the same location, a bulwark of the whole Mount Vernon area. Until the past weekend, its rugged exterior, though gray with age, looked as impregnable as its exclusive membership rolls. But that did not stop a fire in a propane stove from sweeping through much of the edifice, causing an estimated $4 million in damages.

The first reaction of mortified members was that the Maryland Club will rebuild and be back in business at its accustomed site in a year. We hope that is their last and enduring reaction as well.

In the old days, many of the city's gentry lived in walking distance of the club. They would often appear at eventide for a game of billiards and good talk, good food, good drink and good fellowship. Today, the Maryland Club is primarily a lunch time place as members from the suburbs arrive from scattered offices and homes. And therein lies part of its mission. It keeps it members connected to downtown Baltimore, loyal to one of the many traditions that make up this polyglot metropolis.

Architecturally, the Maryland Club may be only a little less forbidding than the old Maryland Penitentiary. But that does not diminish its importance as a landmark in the neighborhood that needs every support it can get. If the Charles and Eager location were to be abandoned, this would blight some of the most elegant old townhouses in the city and act as a downer in a neighborhood with high residential but low commercial and retail occupancy rates.

Mount Vernon must remain vibrant. The fast-expanding University of Baltimore stands as its northern anchor along with a Penn Station soon to open its new entrance and parking garage. Many of the city's great cultural centers -- the Maryland Historical Society, the Walters Art Gallery, the Meyerhoff, the Lyric and Center Stage -- are part of the scene. Restaurants and bars abound.

Currently, residents of the area are trying to set up a Special Benefits Tax District modeled on the Charles Village experiment. It is a measure both of prudence against the present and faith in the future. Baltimoreans trust that a refurbished Maryland Club will be part of that future.

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