As the author of a book about the history of Lexington Market, I was pleased to read that a decision has been reached to raze the current structure and replace it with a new one. But then I looked at the picture of the proposed building, and the more I looked, the less I liked. It seems as though the designers misinterpreted "clean and well-lit" to mean "uninviting and sterile." The glass and metal rendering could be anything, anywhere — a bus station in Omaha, a savings and loan in

I read with great interest the announcement about Baltimore's plans to replace Lexington Market's main building with a brand new one. My interest was twofold and wholly personal: First, by virtue of having written a history of the market, I was quoted in one of the articles. And, secondly, I have loved the market since moving to Baltimore in 1965.

I loved going there Saturday mornings with my young family, loved the place's hurly burly atmosphere and the sense of discovery: Would the next guy's lamb chops be a nickel less than this guy's? Would I find those wonderfully tart apples for cobbler? And who on earth would want to cook muskrat? I'd never seen anything like it. Nor, dare I say, had most people.

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The sign on the present structure proclaiming "World Famous Lexington Market" isn't an overstatement. George Washington is rumored to have shopped there. So, too, Thomas Jefferson. I know that Jesse Jackson did — his photograph is my book.

But the market was never meant for the high and mighty. When John Eager Howard gave land for a market in Baltimore's "western precincts" he envisioned a place for ordinary people to buy the fruits of Maryland's bounty. And buy they did, week after week, for centuries.

During interviews for my book, I was struck by the profound affection Baltimoreans have for the place. It seemed everyone had a fond market memory and mourned its sad decline. "Do they still sell rock candy?" they'd ask. "What about shad roe?" Long after they'd stopped venturing to the market themselves, they needed to know that their favorite gastronomical delights were still being handed across high glass cases by enterprising stall keepers. So I was pleased to read that a decision has been reached to raze the current structure and replace it with a new one.

But then I looked at the picture of the proposed building, and the more I looked, the less I liked. It seems as though the designers misinterpreted "clean and well-lit" to mean "uninviting and sterile." The glass and metal rendering could be anything, anywhere — a bus station in Omaha, a savings and loan in Providence.

Why is it multi-storied? Are there going to be stalls on any floor but the first? And, if so, isn't that a surefire recipe for failure — what shopper would want to tote bags up to a second level? And why, for heaven's sake, are the words "Lexington" and "Market" at right angles to each other? I am not alone in my misgivings; in her excellent letter to The Sun, Suzanne Moran voiced some of these same concerns.

The designers had only to look down Eutaw Street to Camden Yards to see how well the past can be incorporated into the present, and how it projects a sense of continuity and belonging. Even in its woebegone state, the current market manages to acknowledge its heritage: The stained-glass bull's head in the arcade's pediment is a nod to the medallion that hung over the entrance before the market was destroyed by a fire in 1949, and a mural in the West Market pays tribute to a hometown boy who made good, George Herman Ruth, known worldwide as Babe.

As Ms. Moran notes, nothing about the proposed new building says "Baltimore." Nothing says "this is part of history." Nothing says that along with their bags, shoppers to a new market will be carrying their memories of buying rock candy and soft crabs. Or of elephants parading up Eutaw Street to dine courtesy of the market.

In order for a new market to succeed, the designers have to get it right. There's a lot at stake here: A truly World Famous Lexington Market can contribute to making Baltimore a world class city, but a failure would only mean another negative.

For the cover of my book, I chose a photograph by Aubrey Bodine. In it, all manner of folk throng toward the ramshackle shed housing the market before the 1949 fire. Bodine captures a sense of anticipation: All races, ages and genders stride eagerly toward the entrance, as if they were salivating for fresh Maryland strawberries or a filet of rockfish.

I hope the designers will reconsider their plans for a new market because I know Baltimoreans are hungry to have that shopping experience again — they can almost taste it.

Patricia Schultheis' latest book is a collection of short stories titled St. Bart's Way about a fictional street in Baltimore; her email is bpschult@yahoo.com.

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