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Lexington Market, 1925
— Cator Prints, Enoch Pratt Public Library

1904  Fire destroys most of downtown, including more than 1,500 structures and 2,500 businesses, from Hopkins Place to Jones Falls and from the harbor to Lexington Street-seventy blocks of ruins.

1909  Walters Art Gallery is built (bequeathed to city, 1931)

1909  The Back River sewage treatment plant opens to provide the first proper sewers in the city.

1914  Babe Ruth pitches for International League Orioles.

1914  The Baltimore Museum of Art is incorporated and exhibits in Miss Mary Garrett's mansion of Mount Vernon Place.

1916  H.L. Mencken publishes first book of Prejudices.

1918  City's first annexation of county districts.

1931  Dashiell Hammett published The Glass Key, a murder mystery based on Baltimore's political corruption.

1935  University of Maryland School of Law opens to African Americans after NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall brings suit.

1958  Baltimore Colts win the National Football League championship.

1958  Greater Baltimore Committee announces plans for Charles Center.

Noon and a long afternoon of the Queen City of the Patapsco, 1904-1960

Abroad, two world wars, the Holocaust, and the atomic bomb make people very familiar with tragedy. Leaders of culture are excited by a Paris exhibit of paintings by Les Fauves (the Wild Beasts, including Matisse). George Orwell published Animal Farm.

The Big Fire [of 1904] cleared out much of the city's downtown architecture. Although repairing the damage brought little improvement to ancient street patterns, businessmen rebuilt offices rapidly Baltimore continued to be the sinful seaport where H.L. Mencken said you could get "earfuls and eyefuls of instruction in a hundred giddy arcane, none of them taught in school."

Steamboats spun a cobweb connecting towns around the bay. In summer, Baltimoreans voyaged to Chesapeake resorts on both shores. So polluted was the Inner Harbor in 1912 that the water stained white hulls of ships a foul yellow. Officials of the Pennsylvania Railroad ordered their steamboats repainted a deep Pennsylvania Railroad red.

The advent of automobiles perhaps enlarged the romance attached to horses. Contests at Pimlico Race Track supported innumerable bookmakers. The Preaches, inaugurated in the 1870s, became the second race of the Triple Crown. The horsy set gradually gave up its winter townhouses to live in the valley miles to the north.

No city outside of Boston, Cleveland Amory said, set such store by family pride as old-time Baltimoreans did. One of them Wallis Warfield, later Duchess of Windsor, believed her own pedigree certainly as fine as that of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became queen instead of the Baltimorean after King Edward VIII's abdication in 1936.

Intellectual females also found a place, although a more tenuous one than that of girls who came out at the Bachelor's Cotillion. Women of high caliber, such as M. Carey Thomas, Gertrude Stein, the Cone sisters, and Edith Hamilton, managed to achieve a good deal despite living in Baltimore.

As for literary males, four or five grew up around Union Square. H.L. Mencken became, some say, the conscience of intellectual America in the 1920s. Dashiell Hammett made his mark as founder of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. Russell Baker, who lived and worked in Baltimore as a young man, later earned a reputation as humorist and memoirist.

New York's Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s set a standard Baltimore tried to match. Black entertainers with local roots-Eubie Blake, Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway--among them made national reputations. Pennsylvania Avenue theaters and clubs attracted white patrons as well as black in to the 1940s

Early suburbs followed streetcar lines and spread into surrounding counties after cars became cheap. But Baltimoreans entered the motor age with characteristic reluctance, and so they built only one expressway before 1970. Citizen pressure later forced bureaucrats to tunnel interstate I-95 under the harbor instead of knifing right through the heart of the old city.

During two world wars, settled Baltimoreans noted the arrival of thousands of newcomers, many of them from rural areas. Housing war workers posed serious challenges, and many old neighborhoods, badly overcrowded, declined.



Shivers, Frank R., Jr. Walking in Baltimore: An Intimate Guide to the Old City. pp. 1-17. © 1995 The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reproduced with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press

© 2003. Baltimore City Historical Society.