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The city's landmarks stand as studies in urban eccentricity

The Baltimore Sun

It's difficult to predict what in Baltimore will one day be revered as a landmark, but it's not hard to distinguish the ones that have already achieved that status. Take a tour:

I was walking down Caroline Street the other morning and reached Fayette. The light glanced off the Shot Tower, which stands like a sentry at the eastern edge of downtown Baltimore.

Wilbur H. Hunter, who before his death directed the old Peale Museum, taught me that the roads that lead into Baltimore are like the fingers on your hand. Many are named for their destinations -- Pennsylvania, Reisterstown, York, Bel Air, Philadelphia, Annapolis, Frederick and Washington. Along the way, you'll find some knockout architecture.

Rivaling the Shot Tower in the marker-landmark category is the American Brewery, that great cuckoo clock of woodwork and bricks on the Gay Street-Belair Road corridor that sits on just enough of a hill to be observed for miles around.

No wonder the film crews on The Wire and Ladder 49 love these locations. So do I.

The approach from the northeast provides some of Baltimore's most interesting views. As you descend from North Avenue, the Johns Hopkins Hospital and City Hall domes appear. I also like the Zion Lutheran Church parish house tower. Lexington Street shakes when those amazing bells ring.

Coming into Baltimore from O'Donnell Street, there's a former Civil War Union troop encampment site that is now occupied by the granite Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown. This is quite a church-school-rectory compound, with a castle-like walled interior courtyard. Look for it near the new Mr. Boh sign atop the old National Brewery.

The Interstate 95 approach into Baltimore from the southwest unfolds like panoramic Hollywood cinematography. Who would have thought that the old Montgomery Ward building, now cleaned up and well-lighted, would ever put on such a show? (Its one-time retail competitor, the blocky Sears Roebuck complex at North and Harford, is no match).

Don't miss the old 14 Holy Martyrs Church on Mount Street, with its twin towers that resemble a bishop's miter. And the B&O; Museum's cupola is right up there with the Shot Tower in the industrial arts department.

The downtown Jones Falls Expressway route is more of a roller coaster, with a fine sideshow at Woodberry's Meadow Mill and the Howard Street Bridge arches.

By comparison, the York Road-Greenmount Avenue route downtown is dull until it crosses 25th Street. Then the Gothic steeple of St. Ann's pops up, followed by the mortuary chapel inside Green Mount Cemetery and silver top of the state penitentiary.

Coming into Baltimore from the northwest, there's the little-known West Arlington Water Tower. At the edge of Druid Hill Park is the marvelous green dome of Shaarei Tfiloh. The Berea Temple (once the home of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation) and the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Bolton Hill provide plenty to consider.

On the same morning that I observed the Shot Tower, I also walked the length of the recently constructed Inner Harbor East, where new hotels and condos have shot up over the past decade. I wondered if any of these might one day be landmarks. Beats me. They all look too much alike to tell one from the other -- something that could never be said of most of Baltimore's roaring 19th-century architectural eccentricities.


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