Neglect is allowing historic courthouses to begin...


Neglect is allowing historic courthouses to begin to crumble

The Sun's editorial "Threatened Landmarks" (July 12) laments the collapse of the Mayfair Theater and the crumbling of other "vacant, architecturally notable buildings."

As a trial judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, I have been witnessing the gradual deterioration of two historic architectural gems: the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse and Courthouse East (the old Post Office Building), in which the Circuit Court is housed. These buildings, of course, are not vacant. They are vibrant with activity.

Erected in 1899, and expanded since then, the Mitchell Courthouse will be celebrating its centennial next year. Courthouse East was constructed in 1930-1932 as a main branch of the U.S. Postal Service. In 1978, the federal government deeded the building to the city to house part of the Circuit Court.

While some renovation and restoration has taken place, it represents a fraction of what needs to be done to preserve these historical edifices and allow them to maintain a modicum of the splendor they deserve.

The Sun editorial predicts the demolition of significant landmarks -- splendid but uninhabited remnants of a bygone era -- "because they have no angels with deep pockets."

The Circuit Court buildings are a hub of activity for thousands of people daily. The city will not or cannot allocate funds to restore the buildings -- not necessarily to grandeur, but at least to respectability.

City government has always wanted and hoped the state would take over the responsibility for the city Circuit Court because it is part of the wider state Circuit Court system. But the state has not done so.

Whenever I travel, I visit local courthouses. I have seen other memorable courthouses, some also poorly maintained. The Mitchell Courthouse and Courthouse East are unique. The Mitchell building is the product of a design competition held in 1894 to which 79 firms responded.

The Renaissance Revival style building was considered a significant architectural commission from the start. This courthouse was built with beautiful marble from the Vatican quarry. Its sister building, Courthouse East, magnificent in its own way, represents a classic style with a Spanish roof.

Unless and until the state takes over, the city should make it its business to find the funds to restore the courthouse buildings.

Otherwise, they will continue to decline and will crumble, taking with them a part of history. They will likely be replaced with stark, monotonous structures lacking stature and character. Unlike the federal government, and perhaps state government, Baltimore lacks the financial resources needed to build a stately, beautifully designed building. These historical halls of justice should not fall prey to bland modernity.

I end with a suggestion to our mayor and City Council and their successors. If you can't build a courthouse -- one with architectural dignity -- please try to preserve the precious courthouses we have.

Gary I. Strausberg


The writer is a judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Lacrosse event creates parking woes for neighbors

I am writing as a resident of 100 W. University Parkway to express my distress at the way Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Police Department have handled the parking situation for the World Lacrosse Championship.

As a resident of the city and a graduate student at John Hopkins, I would like to be proud that our city and our leading university are hosting these games. However, because the university and the city have taken away most of the street parking available to community residents, making us captives in our own homes and subject to parking tickets every time we need to go to work or do an errand, I am unable to be the enthusiastic supporter I would like to be.

As an area resident, I was exposed to all of the promotional literature about the lacrosse games; however, we were not informed that street parking would be made unavailable for nearly two weeks -- until no-parking signs were posted along West University Parkway late the night before the event. Lacrosse game attendees occupy scarce parking spaces in the surrounding blocks, often forcing community residents to park illegally and risk $20 parking tickets.

Johns Hopkins should have made provisions for parking. I have been informed by my apartment building manager that telephone calls to the organizers of the World Lacrosse event regarding the parking situation have gone unanswered.

The new stadium is attractive, and, I imagine, an important source of revenue and prestige for the university. However, the parking situation was bad enough during the regular lacrosse season this year. The university should not sacrifice public relations within its own community to its external image.

Nancy Murray


Constellation Pier structure is obstructing harbor view

While everyone is talking about how disastrous the proposed shrimp boat would be as a visual obstacle in and around the water's edge, the city built -- after slipping it through a closed-door process -- a two-story, beige stucco visitor's center on Constellation Pier.

During the July 4 celebration, thousands of spectators were surprised and angry to find they couldn't see the fireworks because of that building.

You can't see across the harbor from portions of Harborplace and the walkway.

Nothing should ever have been built out there.

Harvey Schwartz


We must begin to protect harbor's 'image of class'

After reading "Roiling Inner Harbor waters," (July 14), I agree with the architect Mario Schack, quoted in the article, who said: "The aquarium gives a certain image to Baltimore and the Inner Harbor."

That image used to be one of class. The rejuvenation of our harbor began in a tasteful way without overkill, keeping a balance between the historic preservation of the surrounding neighborhoods, the corporate presence and the need to expand Baltimore's tourism industry. The aquarium is an excellent example of this aesthetic modernization, exhibited by its thoughtful architecture that blends comfortably in both a waterside and downtown location.

However, since the implementation of the Hard Rock Cafe's guitar towering high above in the company of an otherwise corporate skyline, our harbor has adopted a theme-park-like facade. The Pratt Street Pavilion is partially wrapped in Planet Hollywood's flashy pink and green zebra-striped awning, which clashes with the traditional if not conservative glass, brick and concrete structure of Harborplace's architecture.

Was it not enough to plaster the upstairs windows of this establishment with huge likenesses of celebrities staring out upon all who travel along Light and Pratt streets? Finally, need I mention ESPN's smoking shish kebab?

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled with the success of these establishments, not to mention the economy and the tourism brought to Baltimore because of it. However, this city needs to start limiting the commercialized appearance these establishments are giving our downtown. We can start by keeping restaurant barges out of our canals.

Kathleen Benz


A mindless tradition removes a skilled jurist

Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman's "closing argument" that he should not be arbitrarily retired just because he has reached age 70 can be echoed by many of his contemporaries who, as victims of society's "ageism," share his fate.

The judge's most effective years as a jurist may still lie ahead of him because of his experience, accumulated wisdom, dedication and vigor. Yet, society, with its mindless tradition of retirement, throws all this away. The judge will have no difficulty in establishing himself in a role in which his experience and skills play a part, and society will still benefit from his dedication and skills.

For those of us without his name and exposure, however, it is much more difficult to retain or regain a role in the working world after age 65, a retirement age established more than 60 years ago, when life expectancy was shorter than it is now. Retirement would consign us to life in the rocking chair or tax us heavily for persisting in enjoying a career or profession for pay. Fortunately for the judge, he is past the age (70) where he will have a large portion of his Social Security pension confiscated because he is gainfully employed.

Judge Hammerman, good luck in your continued service and strike a blow for the rest of us through your example and persistence! As the poet Dylan Thomas said, "Do not go gentle into that good night . . . but, rage, rage against the dying of the light!"

Franklin W. Littleton


Pub Date: 7/23/98

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