The Baltimore skyline has looked a little dim ever since March 1, when a 70-year piece of history disappeared from sight. That’s when the lights were shut off on the iconic “Domino Sugars” sign, which brightened up the Inner Harbor and could be viewed from various vantage points around the city. To Baltimore, the Domino sign was as much a part of its fabric as the Radio City Music Hall sign that blazes across New York City’s Rockefeller Center, or the dozens of similarly lit marquees that make it seem like it’s always daytime in Times Square. In fact, the Domino sign was built by the same company who created the iconic neon signs in The Big Apple, New York’s Artkraft Strauss Co. It was a landmark that said “this is Baltimore.”
Lucky for Baltimoreans for whom the sign stirred up good memories, it was never intended to be gone for good. Still, news that it was coming down because of wear and tear and was to be replaced by a more modern environmentally friendly, LED-version, but with the same look as the old one, caused quite a buzz around town — a topic of water cooler conversation, though often virtually given the pandemic. What’s Baltimore without the Domino Sugars sign? And what bad timing, removing something so familiar when COVID-19 had already turned everyone’s normal upside down. As it has slowly reappeared in recent days, as workers have replaced each letter in preparation for its relighting on July 4, it has once again stirred up talk about its meaning.
For historians and the city’s old-timers, the 120-by-70-foot mammoth erected in 1951 brings back nostalgic memories of the city’s industrial past, when factories dotted the landscape and manufacturing was the way that many people fed their families. For the new, younger sect, it’s one of those vintage attractions that makes Baltimore hip, where newly married couples take photos for their wedding albums and residents stop to snap pictures of the sunset as they take their evening runs or walks around the Inner Harbor — especially in this document-everything-on-social-media era. Those fortunate enough to live within its view enjoy it from their windows and rooftop decks. It’s something for tourists — who have seen the sign in movies including “Diner” and “Tin Men,” or shows on TV like “Homicide: Life on the Street” — to put on their lists of attractions to see when they visit the city.
The Domino Sugars sign isn’t the only iconic symbol in the city; the Bromo-Seltzer Arts Tower and the old Royal Theater Marquee sign on Pennsylvania Avenue are others that come to mind. And Baltimoreans aren’t the only ones who become nostalgic for parts of their cities. What would Washington, D.C., look like without its monuments? What if people didn’t have the “LOVE” statue to take their “I have visited Philadelphia” photos or stage their wedding proposals? These symbols serve as connections to a place for people and make up a city’s identity. They are places where people make memories. When these symbols are gone, they are missed. It’s why to this day New York City’s skyline is still not the same without the twin towers, knocked down as part of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s why even a few months of the missing Domino Sugars sign is too much for some.
It is said that the Domino Sugars sign itself was an afterthought built nearly three decades after the sugar factory it sits atop began production. Today its importance and prominence can’t be denied. There won’t be fireworks to see this Independence Day in Baltimore City because of COVID, but we can take comfort in seeing the Domino Sugars sign aglow once again.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.