In the wake of the recent uproar in Baltimore I started thinking about how we sometimes tend to incorrectly view places in a negative light based on how the news paints the picture for us. When the “Favorite Places” topic came up for the next installment of ArchiTalks #8 about a week ago or so I couldn’t think of anything better to talk about than one of my favorite places the much beleaguered Detroit. I was excited to share my views on how I see the city and all of its architectural beauty and what people really miss about the place because of the images painted and the fear it creates.
Well earlier this week we were painted another image of a city torn apart and ravaged by fear and anger, much of the surface is true and to a point even justified, but the picture that was missed and overshadowed by the constant images of brick throwing, car fires and angry mobs (or maybe a hundred or so) was the thousands upon thousands in Baltimore grieving over a tragedy but wanting to insure the world that the Baltimore they were seeing on TV was not the real Baltimore. Baltimore is a loved place a place rich in not only architectural history but rich in our national history. Nary has a page of history been turned in our country that hasn’t included Baltimore as a participant, even the events of the recent days have proven that. But what I fear is in the constant barrage of hate and anger smeared from and towards Baltimore, that the city won’t get a fair shake, it’ll be viewed and judged as a place of hate and anger and those judging won’t see the real Baltimore.
I spend a lot of time in Baltimore, I only live an hour south closer to the DC line, but I have projects in the area and the family and I enjoy spending the day in Baltimore as often as we can, the city is rich in culture, history and on occasion my Detroit Tigers (or Tampa Bay Rays) come into town and there is no place better to catch baseball game than Camden Yards. Back when I had a semi written blog I wrote about the lessons that are missed when you over look the Charm City, and rather than drone on and what I fear might end up a sappy pseudo-political rant about the city of Baltimore my second favorite place I’d like to share that old blog post from my long defunct posterous blog account:
Baltimore – A lesson waiting to happen
October 9, 2011
The drives with my project architect out to our job site every Monday morning are typically filled with discussions about the office, projects and what was done over the weekend. Today, we got on the topic of historical buildings in the area. Since she went to architecture school locally, I wondered if while in school she traveled to some of these historic buildings to learn about the different eras of American architecture, imagining how great studio trips would be visiting some of these buildings and urban areas. Much to my dismay she said no, NO? Why would an architectural school in one of the most architecturally diverse areas of the nation NOT, I repeat NOT, take advantage of the most amazing sets of architectural lessons? Your lesson plan is set, visit the nation’s capitol, visit the industrial city of Baltimore, visit the revolutionary town of Annapolis, or Alexandria, or you throw a stone and you have a ready-made lesson. Opportunity lost? Sure, in fact she said that her school (purposely left nameless) doesn’t spend much time on history. That will be a rant filled post for another time, but yes, what a lost opportunity.
The subject of history came back up this evening when my son was showing his homework writing assignment, his chosen subject was about our weekend trips. And it got me thinking about the history lessons we try to never miss. This writing assignment showed me that these aren’t wasted trips, that even though we are trying to have family fun, we are also hoping that our kids absorb some of the history they are treading on.
One of those history filled trips came this past weekend. A weekend that was like most weekends, but unlike typical weekends where we chose a direction and just stumble onto somewhere, this weekend we wanted to get back to Baltimore. Outside of my hometown of the Detroit Metro area, Baltimore is one of favorite cities. Most people look at Baltimore as a scene out of the “The Wire” or just a grimy working class town that suffers from the blight and fright of typical American inter-cities and YES, they are right to some extent. But every time I go to Baltimore I enter the city as a doe-eye architect that can see past the grime of the hard times and can see the glory days, can see the great collection of turn of the century (1900’s that is) buildings that exude the glory years of American craftsmanship. Going to Baltimore is like taking a trip through the history books. Baltimore is home to many first, the first built memorial to George Washington by (the first “native” born) American Architect Robert Mills, which coincidentally designed the more famous Washington Monument a few short miles down the road in Washington DC.
Another first is the Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral built-in the United States (now called the Baltimore Basilica). As a bit of trivia, the dome on the top was originally to be masonry but Latrobe’s friend (some guy by the name of) Thomas Jefferson suggested it be a wooden double shell dome as so you could have clerestory lights surrounding the dome.
Baltimore has always fascinated me (much like Detroit) because in away the hard times actually persevered the buildings (albeit – vacant and crumbling) because with no one tenants there to say “hey we are a prosperous business, lets tear down to build new” these buildings lasted through the fury of the 70’s and 80’s when urban renewal tore through the country to reinvigorate the urban cores in an attempt to pull businesses back into the downtown areas. So in a way, poverty helped prevent the demolition of these fantastic urban buildings.
Our walks though Baltimore focus around the Mount Vernon area of downtown. In the months spanning the fall and winter of 1995 -1996 (roughly Sept – Feb) I lived in an efficiency apt in the area just before the real gentrification that has the neighborhood hopping these days. I worked as a doorman and night desk clerk at a downtown condominium in the Inner Harbor area which was about a mile and a half down the road from my apartment. I worked the late night shift and would always scurry to work at 10pm so I never really saw the neighborhood I lived in, so these visits to Baltimore reconnect me with a part of my past I really didn’t have a time to get to know. On our new trips I find Baltimore is filled with some of the most amazing architectural details old and new. Walk just a few short blocks in and around the Mount Vernon neighborhood and you can watch the history unfold. From the big picture urban fabric or the minute detail of a bracket,architectural history abounds.
The mount Vernon neighborhood and many places like it in Baltimore get glossed over when the civil unrest of the recent days gets painted by the media as a war zone, or as a few tweets I read state “Baltimore is a hole and we should bomb it to the ground” or “There’s nothing good about Baltimore why do we even need it, let them burn it to the ground”. What the miss, what the fail to see is that Baltimore is a wonderful city full of pride, the people of Baltimore truly love their city and the light that is currently being shed on their city is killing them. “That” Baltimore is not their city. “That” Baltimore is not the home the dedicated their lives to opened the businesses in, chose to raise their family in…NO, their Baltimore is the one above, full of richness and hope. So like Detroit, don’t miss out on the lessons Baltimore can teach us…
This ArchiTalks #8 is series that I am participating in with some other wonderful practitioners of this crazy art of architecture so please click the link below and read about where everyone else favorite places are:
Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture @businessofarch – http://businessofarchitecture.com/business/favorite-place
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture @FiELD9arch – http://field9architecture.com/blog/2015/04/30/favorite-place/
Marica McKeel – Studio MM @ArchitectMM – http://maricamckeel.com/favorite-place
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect @LeeCalisti – http://thinkarchitect.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/favorite-place
Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL @etroxel – http://evantroxel.com/blog/my-favorite-place
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC – @L2DesignLLC – http://l-2-design.com/architalks-meets-thisoldhouse/
Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc. – @hawkinsarch – http://hawkinsarch.com/my-favorite-place/
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design – @modarchitect – http://modarchitect.net/favorite-place/
Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC – @MeghanaIRA – https://aremeghana.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/oh-the-places-youll-go/
Michael Riscica – Young Architect – @YoungArchitxPDX – http://youngarchitect.com/2015/04/29/mit-chapel/
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect – @bpaletz – http://theemergingarchitect.com/2015/04/29/favorite-places/
Eric Wittman – intern[life] – @rico_w – http://ercwttmn.blogspot.com/2015/04/my-first-favorite-place.html
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect – @mghottel – http://inmawomanarchitect.blogspot.com/2015/04/architalk-8-favorite-place.html
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture – @rogue_architect – favorite place: #architalks 5th edition
Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture @mondo_tiki_man – Favorite Place
Stephen Ramos – (@sramos_BAC) – Cinque Terre
Tara Imani – @Parthenon1 – Favorite Place – Architalks 8