Exactly where Glen Burnie begins and ends remains a mystery to most people, but yesterday its center was officially defined with the dedication of a brick welcome arch at Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard and Ritchie Highway.
"Glen Burnie's boundaries? No one knows that," said Joseph J. Corcoran, 75, a member of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association and treasurer of the Logo Park Civic Sign Commission, which in 1997 began the project to put up a sign. "But this arch is going to put Glen Burnie on the map and help to define this town."
The sign commission considered placing four signs to define Glen Burnie's limits but gave up when the group couldn't figure out where those boundaries were.
Instead, the commission focused on building an arch in the middle of town, and no one yesterday found any grounds for disagreement about that spot. A crowd of about 100 marveled at the result: a brick structure welcoming all to Glen Burnie's growing town center.
Representatives from 10 Glen Burnie service organizations, state and county officials, and town residents gathered yesterday under a white tent -- set up in case of rain -- for a ribbon-cutting below the 12-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide brick arch.
Bedecked with colorful plaques honoring the supporting organizations and surrounded by red, purple and white flowers, it stands on a tiny plot of grass framing the community's original welcome sign, which declares: "Welcome to Glen Burnie."
Al Brandt, 71, chairman of the sign commission and president of the Glen Burnie Kiwanis Club, said he saw so many other towns with impressive welcome signs during his travels across the country that "I decided we had to do something for Glen Burnie."
He and Jerry C. Davis of the Glen Burnie Rotary Club joined to form the Logo Park Civic Sign Commission and worked with state Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., then a county councilman, to establish a plan.
They commissioned Michael D. Ryan, a professor and chairman of Anne Arundel Community College's architecture and interior design department, to start a design competition among his students.
A jury of representatives from five civic clubs selected the winner, designed by Lance Edwards, 26, who has since moved on from AACC to become an architecture student at Catholic University in Washington.
Edwards, a Glen Burnie resident and a graduate of Glen Burnie High, said the metal Gateway Arch in St. Louis, inspired his design. "I thought of my arch as the gateway to the new Glen Burnie," he said.
Searching for a sign more impressive than the plain designs of neighboring communities, Davis, 63, said the group found Edwards' design impressive.
"I don't believe you can go into any town and see a civic sign comparable to ours," he said, pointing to the arch's intricate brickwork.
Corcoran said Glen Burnie has "set the standard for all of the towns around here."
Davis said the arch is the first project on which all of Glen Burnie's service clubs worked together. Each of the 10 clubs contributed $1,500 to finance the arch's construction.
The groups include American Legion Post No. 40, the Glen Burnie Civitan Club, Kiwanis, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus and Moose Lodge No. 1456, the Anne Arundel Optimist Club, Glen Burnie Improvement Association and Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.
"This arch is a great symbol for the Glen Burnie community," County Executive Janet S. Owens told the spectators and members of the Glen Burnie High School marching band, which played "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Owens said Glen Burnie has gotten its feet off the ground after about 35 years of failed urban renewal projects. "This arch represents the beginning of an absolutely beautiful series of projects for Glen Burnie that we will all see come into fruition," she said, referring to the expanding town center.
Phyllis B. Noel, a 71-year-old member of the Glen Burnie Lions and a resident for more than 40 years, said, "They should have been doing this a long time ago."
Recalling the days before Ritchie Highway became one long shopping strip, Noel said she was glad the arch was built in "Glen Burnie proper."
"This is where Glen Burnie began," she said, "and it is the perfect spot."
Anna Hambruch, a 68-year-old Glen Burnie resident who is a member of the Northern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce said, "It just makes you proud." She was pleased that Edwards designed an arch large enough so passing motorists will know where they are.
A time capsule to be sealed in the arch remained incomplete yesterday.
Brandt said the public can become part of the project by purchasing a personalized brick for $50 that will be placed in a walkway surrounding the arch.