The Old Mechanic Theater Near Charles Center in Downtown Baltimore

image

Friday’s ride took me out in impressive heat to tag along with E. and C. for a test ride of Baltimore Heritage and Bikemore’s new urban renewal history-by-bike tour. E. and C. are just my kind of nerds, proven again as we all donned our helmets and took the lane on a pedal from Mount Vernon Square down to Shot Tower, over through the squares of the business district, over to Lexington Market, and up to State Center at Eutaw and Lafayette where I got to learn more about the building that reduced me to tears trying to find a way in. I learned a ton, and you will too if youtake the ride on a hopefully cooler day in late August. A couple of highlights for me: urban renewal projects often had their roots in much, much earlier urban planner fantasy worlds, but now federal funds were available to make them come true, which also helps explain some of the truly outsized results~see, for example, the ginormous main post office in what was to have been the Shot Tower industrial park. I also learned about Brutalist architecture, and what happens when money dries up before the building’s done~hint: now it really is just stacks of concrete. I took this picture at Mechanic Center, of the old Mechanic Theater that will soon be torn down. Rumor was Mr. Mechanic bought out all the old theaters and closed them to direct traffic to his place, but it wasn’t quite so planned as all that. When he couldn’t fit a helicopter on stage for Miss Saigon he had his own comeuppance, and the Hippodrome was born. Or something like that. His theater is on its way down to make room for another round of development as the city continues to try to figure out how to rebirth itself. Hopefully it will leave at least traces of its past, as in the last round that kept buildings like the ones in the background of this picture. The other thing I learned is something it’s hard not to know if you bike around this town and pay a teensy bit of attention. Urban renewal was also about renforcing and enabling even more impressive forms of racial segregation. I thought about that at our most bustling stop on the tour: the transit station at Howard & Lex. There are lots of calls to revitalize the Westside, but to these eyes it looks pretty vital, the street full of people, but maybe not the sort of people city planners want bustling around the city center. This stuff has long, old roots, and the drug war is an old, old alibi. I don’t think we’ll solve the heroin and cocaine problem in this city by building a Superblock over there. But I digress. It was a great tour that taught me whole bunch of new stuff I need to learn about. And old stuff, like bring a lot more water than you think you need on a day as hot as this one, and yes, sunscreen works.

One thought on “The Old Mechanic Theater Near Charles Center in Downtown Baltimore

  1. Back in the 60’s, when I think Urban Renewal was born, it was always called “Negro Removal.” Never fooled anyone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s