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Vintage treasures

The Baltimore Sun

When vintage-car buffs converged yesterday on a Curtis Bay park, the focus was twofold: restoring hot rods and restoring the vitality of a community.

The second Lead Sled Festival, a car show featuring about 50 customized vintage cars, also raised money to restore an abandoned Baltimore landmark.

Funds from the event, which was held in Farring-Baybrook Park in Curtis Bay, will go to efforts to reopen Polish Home Hall, a Curtis Bay building that long served as the center of the area's immigrant community.

"It's a marvelous building," said Richard G. Anderson of Brooklyn, who helped organize the festival. "Something like that is part of the glue that holds a community together."

The hall was acquired by the United Polish Societies of Curtis Bay in 1925. It hosted a variety of events - including dances, weddings, memorial services and union meetings - for Polish immigrants who came to Curtis Bay's busy industrial waterfront in search of prosperity.

As factories closed over the years, and the children of those immigrants grew up and moved to the suburbs, the hall fell into disrepair and eventually closed in 1996. But in the past five years, Anderson said, community activism has been on the rise in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, and residents are hoping to restore the old hall.

"It touched many lives," Anderson said, "and we'd like to see that come together again."

To raise funds for the restoration, Anderson and others organized the Lead Sled Festival - so named because of the lead once used to repair and detail custom cars. Organizers expected this year's event, hosted by the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition and the Street Survivors of Maryland car club, to attract more than 600 people to the park.

Joe Mecler of Dundalk learned of the show from his wife, Nancy, who attended events at Polish Home Hall when she was a child. "We went down there a lot of times," she said of the hall. "They had all sorts of events."

For Mecler, the festival was a chance to show off his newest car: a chrome-edged 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, painted light-pink and gray, the original colors. He bought the car fully restored in July and said it appraises for about $50,000.

Mecler got hooked on hot rods more than four decades ago when he was in elementary school in Dundalk. A friend's older brother roared around in an orange 1957 Bel Air with the words "Orange Crate" emblazoned on the side.

In addition to the orange Chevy his friend's brother drove, Mecler's father played a role in his love of cars.

"I was always the rowdy one, so he'd make me sit up front with him," Mecler said. "As we drove, he'd point out the nice cars guys were driving."

He was 16 when he got to drive his first muscle car, his uncle's Plymouth Barracuda, on the same roads he had watched the Orange Crate power down a few years earlier.

"It was like putting your foot in a beehive," he said of pushing on the gas pedal of the Barracuda. "There was so much torque in this car, it threw you back in the seat."

Troy Waterman of Hanover in Howard County also traced his car fascination to uncles, who used to take him to car shows when he was a child.

At the festival he showed off his modified 1950 Ford Mercury, a low-slung car, painted purple with flames creeping down the side. He bought the car for about $13,000 and put another $30,000 into fixing it up.

He had wanted to customize a car since he a child, he said, but this was the first time he'd had enough money. Last month, he bought another vintage car to work on, a 1965 Chevrolet Impala station wagon.

"It feels good," he said of finishing his first custom job. "But I'm ready for another project."

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