Concrete Pat's lifestyle is no longer set in stone

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pat Guldan, better known as "Concrete Pat" on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh, is finally softening up after 48 years.

Surrounded by her beloved reflecting lawn balls and statues of gnomes, Madonnas and pink flamingos, Guldan sadly relates that she is selling her business -- one of the largest lawn ornament outlets in the mid-Atlantic -- and heading for the garden of retirement.

"My back's OK but my shoulders are giving out from lugging around those 100-pound bags of plaster," said Guldan, 65, nine times a grandmother and twice a great-grandmother.

When U.S. 40, or Pulaski Highway, was the main corridor between Baltimore and Philadelphia, Guldan and her husband, James, settled on that asphalt ribbon -- he with a bar, she with a gift and curio shop that grew into her career.

Her husband sold his bar and has been retired for 12 years. She wants very much to join him.

"I started with $200, and we did pretty good along the years," she said. "Concrete was becoming more popular with garden and lawn ornaments because they last so much longer. I started making my own molds, pouring my own concrete and delivering stuff from Pennsylvania to Virginia."

She envisions herself as part artist, part laborer. Her customers have ranged from the chi-chi in the northern valleys to the elderly woman who bought a set of kissing pigs on lay-away.

"That's been the thing," Guldan said in her home next to the business office. "I have been blown away by the people I've met and what they've been interested in buying. I've made no judgments, but still ... ."

It was quite interesting to place the concrete statue of Neptune atop a 12-foot column along the winding garden path of an upscale call girl in Washington, she recalls.

It was an absolute hoot to install a little indoor fountain in the wedding chapel of the Towson courthouse.

And wasn't it just grand to have as a customer one Dominic "Crowbar" Carozza, minus a right leg from a car-bombing that went awry, who wanted a nice fountain in his front yard? Before Guldan could deliver Carozza's fountain, he was implicated in a murder and was sent away for life.

"I'm glad I didn't have a problem with him," Guldan said.

Items with a religious theme have been popular throughout her time on Pulaski Highway. Guldan points with pride at the three versions of Mary that she has in her inventory -- Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes.

And from time to time, she has stocked the patron saint of sight -- St. Lucy, the statue holding a saucer with two eyes in it.

On a walking tour of her expansive outdoor shop, a visitor can find anything from a bench with wings to a 500-pound deer. And there, at the entrance, are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, pagodas, seahorses, mermaids, Christmas manger scenes and a dozing gentleman with a sombrero pulled over his face.

All in concrete.

For Guldan, it was a matter of following in her mother's footsteps.

Born in Hyattsville, Guldan helped in her mother's gift shop near the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, where she sold plaster lawn ornaments and souvenirs. Her parents moved to Maryland and bought the property in White Marsh. After they died, Guldan started making lawn statues and other ornaments with concrete.

But when John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, or Interstate 95, was dedicated in November 1963, business slacked off.

"I made about one-third of what I sold; the other items I ordered from out of state," Guldan said. "I make my own molds, paint all my figures and until my shoulders started hurting, I delivered most of my products in my truck."

As she prepares to bid farewell to her lifelong job and passion, she sees tastes in lawn ornaments coming full circle.

"Flamingos are coming back," she said. "Not the kind that you stick their legs in the ground but flamingos that are on a stand, heavier in concrete and metal. Very nice."

Other items making a comeback, she said, include the kissing Dutch figures and the donkey pulling a cart -- "the donkey I sell now has aluminum ears, lasts longer, nothing but class."

Reflecting lawn balls, offered in purple, gold, green, red and blue, have never gone out of style. People put them on concrete cherub pedestals in their yards, in their bedrooms and bathrooms, hang them from trees or float them in their swimming pools.

Guldan said she has no regrets about her seven-day-a-week job.

"I'd love to sell my house and business to a nice couple in their 30s, young enough to tackle all the work and enjoy the fruits of their labors," she said.

That way, Guldan said, she could take it easy with her husband, enjoy a life of leisure and go on bus trips.

And on those bus trips, she might pass those concrete lions sitting in front of an Aberdeen funeral home or the large concrete spheres adorning the entrance to the Baltimore Country Club.

And she could just smile at her legacies.

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