Joke is on us
To say that city politics is a joke is nowhere more obvious than in Baltimore. As a witness to the recent community sweep-up in Pigtown, I was both irritated and amused. There was a parade four blocks long of city vehicles covering the range of services -- parks and recreation, streets and sanitation, parking patrol, police.
There were vans of crews, even one or two supervisory cars, as well as representatives of the Mass Transit Administration, all riding in full city regalia -- dirty, dented vehicles sporting various official and unofficial bumper "snickers," blowing exhaust fumes in full glory as they traveled east on Pratt Street, down Martin Luther King Boulevard and then into the heart of Pigtown on Washington Boulevard, bringing the message of a new, cleaner and safer Baltimore while observers sat on their front stoops, smoking crack in full view of the police in the parade, and the hookers on the street waved and whistled at public works trucks.
By 5 p.m., the police cars, the big trucks, the supervisors and the MTA were gone. But the hookers were still walking the street, the dealers were still selling their wares, trash was still blowing around gutters and a traffic light or two on Washington Boulevard remained burned out.
At City Hall, there is a record of how many man-hours were used that day. All the supervisors will get letters of gratitude from dignitaries for their specific departments' help. And the politicians will say, "See what we did for you, you should vote for us in this election."
I was stuck in traffic down MLK and Washington Boulevard for the whole show. So, like a good citizen, when I got to work I put in a call to City Hall (they took my name) and to the office of the City Council president (they said call her campaign office). As usual, all I have for my trouble is my irritation from this being election time and my amusement at how stupid the system looks during these times. But the joke in city politics is on us.
William J. Fonshell
City ran it down
The Aug. 26 article about the Edgar Allan Poe House and Allie May Green ("Search for Poe House is full of suspense") mentioned something about the deterioration of the neighborhood and you showed a picture of one of the walkways. Believe me, the neighborhood did not deteriorate, the city brought it down.
This is a neighborhood that was pretty to look at and safe to live in until about four years ago. The city took over the houses on Schroeder and some on Amity. It immediately moved out the tenants and left the vacant property to the druggies and vandals. Safety is now only a word in the dictionary. Property values long ago hit bottom.
I cannot help but think that someone thought there might be a big HUD project to be had that would "upgrade" the neighborhood but that first they had to downgrade it. Just a thought.
Back to the trees
The letter by Al Shelton (Forum, Aug. 24) on the obsolescence of the words "thank you" brings to mind yet another lapse in social courtesies. I refer to the rule-of-thumb admonition of years past that the customer is always right.
The customer, bringing a mistake to the attention of a public servant, promptly received a courteous apology and rectification remuneration of the matter involved.
Now more often than not, at best, one receives a rebuttal to the effect that the computer can't be wrong. Never mind that the computer is only as dependable as its operator, and at long last our rectification or remuneration, sans apology, is received.
So the customer position of being always right has gone the way of our "thank you." And the human race is just a little bit closer to our beginning, that is swinging from the trees again. It's what one calls retrogression, or decivilization.
lanche K. Coda
Has right stuff
In its editorial of Aug. 27 ("For Comptroller, Joan Pratt"), the Sunpapers endorsed Joan Pratt for city comptroller. This may have been tongue in cheek or intentional, but in advancing the reasons for its endorsement the editorial sets forth explicit evidence as to why voters should cast their ballots for Julian Lapides.
If elected Ms. Pratt says she would be outspoken. And, The Baltimore Sun advises, she should be independent "from the very first day" and further she should avoid the possibility of conflict of interest with respect to her accounting firm.
Well, as the editorial observes, Jack Lapides in his two decades as a state legislator, convincingly demonstrated he already possesses the attributes that The Baltimore Sun would like to see in our next comptroller.
Old buildings represent city fabric
It is with dismay that I read about the planned destruction of two 19th Century buildings on Howard Street.
I often walk along Eutaw and Howard streets on my way to and from work at the University of Maryland at Baltimore and find myself elated at the sight of so many beautiful buildings and dismayed that they are no longer in use. To occupy my thoughts, I plan what should be done with each beautiful building to bring it alive again.
One stunning example is the old Kernan Hotel and its adjacent theater. What a wonder of rococo style! It's such a shame that we let these specimens go to ruin while constructing nondescript and mostly ugly new buildings.
In its heyday of urban renewal, the city revered such treasures. It seems that now, vacant buildings are only eyesores to be torn down.
If I only had a few millions, I could realize big changes in this now-derelict part of downtown.
The Kernan Hotel I would renovate into apartments. And since there seems to be a need for a new Eubie Blake Cultural Center, I would put that in the ground floor of the building.
The theater could be used to showcase talent related to the center. Even if it is more expensive to preserve what is already there, I think the city should find it worth the money to preserve what is beautiful and what is rooted in history.
I am always surprised to see the grandeur of the Hutzler building on Howard Street and am heartened that the Stewart's building across from it has scaffolding up. I still don't know what is the proper thing to do to those hulks, but I can give some ideas about buildings I pass by more frequently.
The old bank at Fayette and Eutaw could be used to replace the now-defunct University Club at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. I'm sure there is still a need for grand meeting-and-eating spaces at the university. The old brownstone reeks grandeur, and would be suitable for the most elegant of affairs.
The bank next to it would be conducive to an art gallery. Further down the block, at Baltimore and Eutaw, is the Soho-style Abell building. The upper floors could be used for university student apartments. This is definitely not impractical. Just look at the existence of the Sailcloth Factory and two other loft apartments in the area. A cafe and clothing store (The Gap comes to mind), as well as another gallery, would be suitable as ground floor retail tenants.
If only oodles of dollars could be poured into this area, which is worthy of the best attentions, it could relive its past popularity as in my grandmother's day, when she put on her best clothes and white gloves and took the streetcar to go shopping down on Howard Street.
If Howard Street is to be revitalized, it must be reopened to general traffic. I don't know what kind of headaches that will cause to the traffic engineers, but it must be done to draw the people back in.
However, on Lexington Street there is happily a thriving business community. The conversion of the old Hecht's into Rite Aid is a step in the right direction.
The businesses of Lexington Street cater to the poorer communities and offer discount stores. Perhaps that is the way to direct the renovated stores. Outlets for stores not in the Baltimore area could occupy an old department store. They could also attract customers from the surrounding regions. Old theaters on Eutaw, Fayette and Howard streets could play second-run movies, or offer plays from acting troupes at a reasonable price.
L Please do not start tearing down the buildings in this area.
The oldness of our city is a point to be proud of. I know that I felt I was not in a proper civilization when I was in Los Angeles, where most buildings were younger than 40 years.
Being on the Eastern seaboard and having a history dating from the 18th Century, we should capitalize on that and preserve our history.
Wake up. Protect what is yours.