Crabhouses, best day care centers, and our extensive Home section get the top billing on the cover this month, but there are a couple of unsung stories in the issue that piqued my interest just as much, and brought back a rush of childhood memories.
In both our salute to the 30th birthday of Harborplace and our visit with Little Italy's most venerable denizen, 100-year-old John Pente, there are references to the Inner Harbor landscape before the redevelopment of the 1970s, a vision of just a few civic leaders that put the city back on the national map.
I remember vividly the waterfront industrial wasteland of the late 1950s and '60s because that's when I was a youngster growing up in Little Italy. We were poor, so we had to entertain ourselves, and that meant dreaming up outdoor adventures. If kids today can imagine such a thing, this was before cell phones and personal computers. (How did we survive?) There were just three or four TV stations, broadcasting such racy favorites as The Ed Sullivan Show, Lawrence Welk, and I Love Lucy—for those even lucky enough to have one of those big-as-a-Smartcar TV sets (which my mother didn't). Oh, and forget air conditioning.
It was all about free adventure. As easily as we could head east to play pool with our buddies in Highlandtown, we could also pedal our bikes west to the lumber yards, vacant factory buldings, and rundown docks of the harbor, a somewhat dangerous but fun playground just a stone's throw from our neighborhood. There were rusty, coal-fired cargo ships of all kinds plying the then-filthy harbor waters and some very rough-looking seamen and dock workers (some of whom would head for The Block up the street when the end-of-shift whistle blew). But it's the dozen different smells that linger in my memory even longer than the images, from industrial fumes and rotting marine life to the wonderful scent of spices coming from the McCormick plant, which was then on the water near where the Intercontinental Harbor Court is now.
Of course, those days are a distant memory as Harborplace has evolved into what it is today. Sure, many Baltimoreans now treat Harborplace the way New Yorkers view the Statue of Liberty (it's just for tourists, Hon), but it's allowed the city to build a national (and international) reputation as a tourism destination and, in the process, bankrolled tens of thousands of jobs. It's also spurred construction of such game-changers as the trendsetting Camden Yards, the Convention Center, and dozens of upscale hotels and restaurants, as well as reinvention of our very own gold coast from Fort McHenry to Canton. And for me personally? My Geppi's Comic World comic book store was one of the original tenants when Harborplace opened on July 2, 1980.
Whatever money problems those green-roofed pavilions have suffered in the past couple of years, we're sure they'll get past it, and they deserve to be remembered as the centerpiece of the new Baltimore. So happy birthday, Harborplace.