Ed Kane April 30, 2003 Oral History Interview

Uploaded by JacquieGreff on 12.09.2012

In the belief that the best vantage point from which to observe the winds of change
is the eye of the storm, I'm going to ask you to begin in the middle of our concerns.
Raised in Arbutus, educated at parochial schools, a midshipman at the Naval Academy, an almost
emblematic Baltimore area life, yet at a time when the tide started to flow outward, away
from center city, you evinced the commitment to downtown. That's what captured you. Why?
Was that a conscious decision? Just one of the accidents of life? How did this concern
grow and deepen, and can you reflect on this both as a recollection from that period, and
as an examintary review from the now, with the benefit of what we call perhaps twenty-twenty
hindsight? How many hours do you want?
How many hours can you fill? Actually, for reasons that are inexplicable,
I have been wed to downtown since I was in the second grade. The reason for that, and
I think that it's instructive to speculate on it, is, when I was in the second grade
we moved from Highlandtown to Arbutus. And, it was determined that my sister Mildred,
who is six years older than I am, was to take me to school. She was a big girl. She was
in the eighth grade at the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street, and Saint James School
was just a block away. So I was hauled from Arbutus to Saint James School everyday, escorted
by my sister so I would not fall into trouble. Well, when you have an eighth grader who is
interested in boys and a snot-nosed little brother who is not interested in boys, it
becomes an inconvenience, and very early on I was taught how to make it across town on
my own, with the result that I soon discovered that there were many ways across town. For
example, to get from Aisquith and Eager Street, you can walk over a block or so and catch
the 8 car, the old 8 trolley line downtown, and you can transfer at Fayette Street, or
you could stay on it and transfer at Gilmore Street, or you could walk down the street
the other way and catch the 19 and you could transfer at Baltimore Street, or you could
go out to Gilmore Street and transfer at Gilmore Street to the old Q bus line that ran out
to Arbutus. How long was this trip?
The trip itself took about forty minutes; however, the possibilities of the trip became
very, very apparent, because you had to go through downtown. Which meant... My mother
was a working woman. We were, in a sense, latch key kids. But, I very early figured
it out, that as long as I was home by five p.m., there were no consequences, with the
result from 2:40 in the afternoon until 5, I was free to explore, and I was able to explore
downtown Baltimore from the eyes of a seven-year-old. And for whatever reason, everything I have
ever done has led me back to downtown Baltimore: every job, and... Is that a consequence of
what I want, or is it fate? I don't know. Now, someplace along the line our destinies
got tied up. When you got out of the Navy and you started
working, your first real job was BG&E. Well, actually, my first job,... I was a student
at Western Maryland College. I got a job at Dunn and Bradstreet, who, at that time, had
their largest office outside of New York here in Baltimore, because Baltimore was a big
clothing shopping center in the state. And, guess what, my first territory was the old
postal zones 1 and 2. That was my territory, where I got to know a huge number of people.
Two years later, when I graduate from school and go to work for Baltimore Gas & Electric,
guess what? As a commercial rep dealing with our commercial accounts, my first territory
was postal zones 1 and 2, with the result, there was a time when I could go up street
after street and tell you, store after store, and tell you the names of people. Frequently
I knew how many grandchildren they had. I knew where they had emigrated from. I can't
do that anymore, but I can try. Now, this was in the mid-fifties.
This is 1956. And you were at the gas company, BG&E for...
As a commercial representative, right. And you worked there until 1980?
I was there till January of 1982. And it was during that time, in the mid-fifties,
that downtown really started to change. That's when the flow really started going outward.
Absolutely. Actually, it was probably taking place in very, very quiet ways before that,
but I think the seminal event, the change in downtown was probably 1956-1957. And, this
is the point at which the great project in Woodlawn is completed, when Social Security
is moved out of downtown, en masse to Woodlawn, which left a HUGE emptiness in downtown as
far as office space was concerned. For example, I know Social Security occupied a huge portion
of the Candler Building. There were buildings on Calvert Street that they occupied in very
large portion. All that was moved out. We are talking several hundreds of thousands
of feet of office space that was empty at the flick of a switch.
And of course this impacted upon a lot of satellite businesses.
This impacts everything. When you pull, I don't know what the number was, 20,000, 15,000
jobs out of downtown Baltimore like that [finger snap], there is an impact. There is an impact
on lunch stands, there's an impact on news stands, there's an impact on retail trade.
When 10,000 pairs of pantyhose a day move out, well, there is an affect on the hosiery
business, something to that effect. But there was that vacuum, and it is interesting that
it's from that period that you have emerging The Greater Baltimore Committee and the planning
that leads to Charles Center. The greats like Jeff Miller and Walter Sondheim, who was a
much younger man then, but who started this whole process of, "Let us take a look at this,"
and leads directly to the Charles Center/Inner Harbor project. I believe, however, that the
Social Security move is the seminal event. Now, things were happening before that obviously,
but the actual event that was the trigger... That was the tipping point.
That was a tipping point, absolutely. And then other things started to show themselves.
Wasn't that about the same time McCormick started developing Hunt Valley? I know they
still had the plant... No, McCormick's is a little bit later. McCormick's
is probably... Well, it might have been in their head, because I guess,... Let's see,
the Hunt Valley Inn comes in about 1963-64, comes on the scene. So, obviously, they were
well along. So, it could very well be that McCormick was into that, but I don't know
that for ... I never really connected it, but it is a good idea. But there are some
other tips in here. Things were not what they should have been, or they were not as we would
have them. For example, in January 1955, we had our first department store closing down
there. Which one was that?
Thomas O'Neill at Lexington and Sharp Streets. That was the first of the department stores
to disappear. Are the things connected? I don't know. That was a problem of landlord-tenant...
There were five buildings there. They were owned by the Shittardhold (SIC?) family, who
came to Baltimore in 1798. But there were five people who owned five different buildings
and they couldn't agree. The O'Neill’s organization said, "Ah, that's it. We're outta here. Bye."
That was a loss to Charles Street because, O’Neill’s was the anchor at the south
end of the Charles Street that is much lauded in fiction and song, so to speak. But that
was a significant turn of events. Did that start the exodus of the major Howard
Street, in downtown, stores: Hoschilds, Hechts, Hutzlers, Stewarts?
No, no, I couldn't make that connection. But, there probably is a connection, but I can't
make it. That Howard Street thing probably starts even earlier than that. I believe our
first satellite department store was Hoschild Kohn at what used to be Edmondson Village.
And that was a landmark event, I mean it was a national event. I guess Joe Meyerhoff had
something to do with that. He was lauded, his first post-war real shopping center, and
Hoschild's right smack in the center of it. And he apparently achieved extraordinary success.
And he quickly followed it by another store at Belvedere and York Road which became a
success instantly. Well, you might look at that as the beginning of the erosion of Howard
Street, because ultimately they all went that way over the next number of years, building
their suburban stores. They still held a place down here, but it was very clearly a downhill
road, probably produced by first the convenience of the suburban stores, technically, by the
proliferation of the motor cars as the primary means of transportation; and third by the
fact that people had moved to the... were becoming suburbanized.
The national trend. The national trend, that's right. However,
contributing to that is also the removal of jobs ala the Social Security thing, movement
of large numbers of retail customers, day-to-day retail customers, the customer who spends
$1.98 a day. That's significant to the dealer. Now at that time, when you were the commercial
rep with BG&E, were you consciously aware of this, or was it like a slow erosion, or
was it something you could feel at the time: "Hey, it's going"?
OK, I was a young man and I was trying to make a wrap for myself. And I have to say,
yes, I was conscious of it. But I became conscious of it because the second floors were empty.
In my youth there were always occupants on second floors of stores. It might be Joe's
detective agency, it might be Pearl's podiatrist. All sorts of things. It might be Amy Sue's
lampshade repair shop. But the second floors were occupied. Now when I took over my territory,
and we had a very elaborate method for managing territory. Today you could do it on a little
Palm Pilot, but this was a huge amount of cards and what have you. In my files as I
inherited them, the second floors were empty. And this was an indicator, now I didn't know
what that indicated. And, I was only 26 or 27 years old, just starting out, but I knew
it indicated something. And I used to talk about it, but I didn't know what I was talking
about. It was there to be seen, I just didn't know what it meant.
That impacted, of course, on also ripples in the stream, all of the side businesses,
and so forth. Were you conscious of a civic commitment on your part, in terms of wanting
to stem the tide of... No, no, that comes later. That comes later.
How did that come about? It came about by an interesting comment by
a realtor in 1960, of I guess it was late '64, early '65. It came about when the first
African American moved into the Midwood area of Govans.
Now, you were living in Govans. My family was there, our family of five children
and my wife, and we had a house on Benninghouse Road. We considered doing what the rest of
the world was doing, moving. We looked around, found a house, found a nice house, and then
took a look at selling the present house. And a man came over, realtor of some sort,
I don't remember the company. He said, "You're doing the right thing, because they are coming."
For reasons I have yet to understand, that was a bad thing to say. It is at this point
that it sort of got under my skin, and I've never thought of myself as a great social
reformer, but it got under my skin that "they are coming." And to the chagrin of many of
the people I love, I walked away from it. Now, that's the beginning: that comment, that
somehow there was something wrong with doing that.
So we stayed there, and one could not stay there without becoming civically energized.
Either that or the waves were going to sweep over us. You could not stay without reacting
to, or being proactive to, conditions around you. And then things went on from there. God
help me. Is that what projected eventually your interest
in the City Fair? There are a couple of events in here. In just
about this time, yeah about '65. Do you remember Gino Marchetti, the great the great end for
the Colts? Well, he had also a successful business. He and Alan Amechi, they went into
the hamburger business. They wanted to open a shop there on York Road, right there at
the old car loop, there's a steak house there now. It became the Rustler, now it's something
else. But under any circumstances, but they wanted to open a hamburger joint. And, our
improvement association got its ire up and said, "This is going to generate a lot of
trash. It's going to generate an enormous amount of kid traffic. We'll have a drive
in and cars will be coming and going, and blah, blah, blah..." So they opposed the zoning.
It is interesting that someplace in a late '60's Sports Illustrated, I no longer remember
which copy, that Gino Marchetti would much rather deal with the Chicago Beard line than
the housewives of Govans. Because we gave him a hard time. That produced a surge of
organizations and the founding of the Community Council of Govans, which was kind of a loose
umbrella group of neighborhood associations. But it did produce a lot of interest, a lot
of activity. And I got drawn into it, I got drawn into it through perhaps the smartest
person I have ever known, Madeline Copper, the late Madeline Copper, who I dearly loved,
admired and respected, and was a dear, dear counselor to me for many years. But, at any
rate, she sort of sucked me in. And, I had some shall we say minor talents that were
of some use, and I got into this thing. Well, we finally beat Gino's.
And this had to do, we had formed an alliance with the Greater Northwood Association. A
guy by the name of Paul Langure [SIC?], something like that, and his wife were head of that.
We decided that, "Gee, if we could do this, we ought to have some kind of stability."
And what we really needed is we needed a sort of a headquarters. And we needed somebody
who would sort of do the paperwork for us. And we went to the archdiocese, the Roman
Catholics archdiocese, what was then the Urban Commission, a guy by the name of Frank Bean.
And we said, "Look, why don't you guys put up fifteen grand a year for the first two
years, and this will fund a secretary and an office, and we will communicate, this will
be our communications headquarters, and we'll stay on top of things, and we'll be able to
deal with matters like this."
Well everybody's building empires, and he went into the inners [?] there, and someone
arrived at the conclusion, "Gee, this wasn't the solution to the problem." What we needed
was an "activist umbrella group." We weren't quite sure what that meant. But, nevertheless,
the Roman Catholic officials went to work. And pretty soon they bring a fellow to Baltimore,
incidentally a wonderful priest, a man who I respect highly, a guy by the name of Jack
Eagen. And Jack Eagen is a very important man. And he comes in. He spends half a day
here. And says, "You're right! You need an umbrella group!" and recommended the formation
of an Alinski-style community organization. Just to clarify that for people who may not
be familiar, you're referring to Saul Alinski, the great neighborhood organizer and official
rabble-rouser from Chicago. I'm going to refer to Saul Alinski. That's
right, but at this point we thought Saul Alinski was a Jewish tailor. Most of us had never
heard of him, and we didn't know what this meant. And it took us some time to really
track it down. And I do remember someplace on this shelf here, there's a copy of his
book written in 1948, "Revile for Radicals," which he then reworked and came out with "Rules
for Radicals" 22-23 years later, which I also have.
But at any rate, but we didn't know what that meant. And, the next thing we know we have
a cadre. Well, the archdiocese has made commitments. They have leaned on other religious groups,
and they've come up with a hundred grand a year to underwrite this operation for two
or three years. And the next thing we know, we have a fellow by the name of Harry Brunette,
who was an ex-Episcopal priest, or maybe he was still an Episcopal priest, but he was
playing this game, who was now the lead organizer. We have all sorts of activity taking place
from 25th Street to Gittings Avenue; from Perring Parkway to Belona Avenue. Well that's
a huge area, and that's a lot further than three miles from 25th Street to the city line.
Now this timeframe is the mid-60's, right? No, by this time we're in 1968. All this activity
and rep, but we didn't know what it means, except there was one significant thing, actually
we learned was significant, was a characteristic of an Alinski organization, was that existing
leadership must be removed. Apparently, according to Alinski principles, existing leadership
is all bad. Whether it is good or bad or not, it's all bad. It has to be removed, we need
new leaders.
And there was intense activity taking place! I mean, neighbor turning neighbor. There were
fights. There were divorces. This thing was traumatic to the whole area. And you became
known, you were either a neck-tight, or you weren't. That was our nickname, "neck-tight."
They had a tendency to turn red in the face. And we had to learn, a whole new lexicon,
a whole new body of behavior.
And I became part of, we'll call it the "the resistance movement." And it was a group,
certainly Madam was the leader, Madeline Cook, I was there, a writer by the name of Bernie
Curtis and his lovely wife, one of the Knots, Frank Knot, and his wife. There were probably
about two dozen of us who formed a resistance movement. We had to learn how to do a great
deal with very little, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
Madeline, incidentally a very funny story, she ran a little catering operation. She was
very well known around Roland Park and Guilford for doing small parties, and her petit fours
and all this other fancy stuff were famous. And there was many a night where, I'm convinced
Madeline was as much into community activity for the free help, because we would sit there
chopping peppers and we're talking, "What does this mean?" And somebody would be reading.
Now what does that mean, and how does that relate to what happened; as we taught ourselves
the principles of community organizing ala Alinski, say 1948. And I'm happy to say, we
beat the bastards. We had a good time. We learned a great deal.
Now, that's a long way around to getting to your answer to your question: Now does this
lead to the City Fair? City Fair was an event that took about two years to develop in concept,
as near as I know, to the best of my knowledge. And it involved, "What can we do to rally
the city around something." And when I say two years, we had the riots after the Martin
Luther King assassination on April '68, I guess. The city was down at the mouth. There
seemed to be an accelerating white flight, middle class white flight.
And those riots really devastated central Baltimore.
Well, the riots certainly, well actually, when you say central Baltimore, I'm not so
sure you're right here, Richard. They devastated the African American central Baltimore. They
worked Pennsylvania Avenue terribly bad. They worked Monument Street very bad. They really
didn't hit the business district, which has never been quite explained to me by sociologists
or anybody else why it went that way, why do you hit these people, why not there, but
that's another question that I can't answer. Well that was kind of parallel to New York,
hit Harlem, hit Stuyvesant. Yeah, you destroyed home territory, and it's
never been fully explained why. There are explanations, but no one has successfully
explained it to me. At any rate, nevertheless the idea was: How do we come up with a rallying point? Well there
wasn't much for us to rally around. Now, there's another phenomenon that's taking place here
simultaneously. We had a young vigorous mayor who all but abdicated.
You're referring to Tommy D’Alessandro. Tommy D’Alessandro the Third. Tommy was
a fine man, imbued with the popular liberalism of the '60's, and it didn't work. His city
went into a state of chaos for a time. And, from where I sat, he all but abdicated. And
turned the running of the city over to the then President of the City Council, William
Donald Shaffer.
And it is at this point where we get one of those, I'm going to call it serendipitous
events, where there is a gathering of eagles, so to speak. In the sense, here in late '68,
'69, '70, William Donald Shaffer, for whatever reason, was able to gather around him a body
of people who at the least were very, very bright, and at their best were downright brilliant,
who for whatever reason found themselves dedicated to the City of Baltimore. Now I talk of people:
Sandy Hellman, Bob Hellman, Bob Embry, Charlie Benton, Marion Pine, Joan Baresca, a very
long list of people, who to a great extent weren't much more than paid volunteers, paid
mere pittances. He had somehow or other, energized the interest of newspaper editors. I remember
Lou Linley from the city editor for the News American going absolutely ecstatic, almost
orgasmic over things that were taking place.
Now, I personally am convinced that we all got caught up in this. Well, no, I know personally
I got caught up in this. And I believe the influence was, strangely enough, the Kennedy
inauguration speech, the "Ask not" speech. That we had a city that was down at the mouth,
and it appeared that there wasn't going to be anybody else around to change anything,
therefore we somehow had to do this. That is my personal conviction. That's also my
personal fate that somehow or other that's what happened.
And this had been after years of outflow, especially following that tipping point of
the Social Security exodus. Yeah, but I think we were more concerned with
the acute present conditions. I don't think any of that occurred to any of us, any of
that background really. That comes with retrospection much, much later.
What happened? I'm not sure we were analytical on this. So, some place in the minds of Sandy
Hellman and architect Bo Kelly, and Hope Quackenbush, probably Bob Embry, there occurred this thinking
in late '68, what can we do? We need an event to energize the city, to rally the city. And
they started sort of pounding out some kind of event, but they couldn't find anything
that they thought they could make work.
The original concept of the City Fair was as I understood it, I was not part of this,
the idea of having on the same day, events on the squares of Baltimore, but they couldn't
solve the transportation problem. And then became sort of convinced that it really wouldn't
work, that you weren't going to get people, at this point, to travel deep into African
American neighborhoods. Although I guess we didn't use "African American," we used "Black"
neighborhoods. But, nevertheless, they pounded away at it.
Sometime in the spring of ‘70, February or March, a guy by the name of Chris Hartman
who was a newspaper reporter for the News American, came out and made a pitch to the
Community Council of Govans about participating in something called a City Fair. And like
everyone else, we said, "What the Hell is a City Fair?" And that it was going to be
concentrated on the neighborhoods of Baltimore. Well, I was … the Community Council of Govans
was not part of an NECO [SIC?], we were actually very contrary to this, and I saw this as being
a proactive defensive move. Chris Hartman started to convince you in the
Govans organization of activists? He became, I guess Chris played the role of
executive director that year. Hope Quackenbush was the Chairman and she was working at HCB.
We had a huge amount of help out of HCB. We had a huge amount of help out of CPHA in terms
of people. Gee, I just noticed Joann Copes who is in housing, and Joann Copes was secretary
of CPHA at this period and she was very, very active and was a dear friend. But, the thing
about it is no one, even including the planners, I believe knew what they were getting themselves
into. Well, what convinced you that the City Fair
was a good idea? Well, I didn't know if it was a good idea
or not except, it was a defensive move, we were claiming the… what’s the international
term … hegemony over Govans, and I advocated for it so that we could block out NECO [SIC?].
That was my motivation. So it was really a political maneuver...
It was a political movement to block out this organization. We knew from our readings would
not go programmatic. According to everything Alinski and the industrial areas foundation
thought, these organizations never went programmatic. And this was in the realm of programmatic.
And this was my motivation for taking over the Chair for the Community Council of Govans.
It was a blocking device. Now, that maneuver changed my life.
How so? Because, now I am no longer just a neighborhood
activist. Now I'm getting caught up in the whole city. Now, this is after the summer
of 1970, I am so caught up in the city as a wonderful place, in my curiosity about the
city. But your working life at that time was still...
I'm still at the gas company. Oh yeah, I'm still making a living. But, Baltimore is taking
on a greater and greater importance to me, and going back to my friend in 1964, they
will not run me out of town, whoever they are. So, you take a mixture of a little Irish
stubbornness, a little stupidity, you wind up with a zealot.
This must have been taking quite a toll on personal and family life.
Suffice it to say, yes. Anyway, and by the first of October 1970, I'm caught up in the
whole thing, never, my whole life is changed. Baltimore, for whatever reason, has become
the central motivating force in my life, for better or for worse. And that's where it's
been these last 32-33 years. Is that what got you in to take over the directorship
of the City Fair? To want it. It led to practically all of the
good things that have happened to me. It certainly led to some of the bad things that have happened
to me. Well what made it successful? What made the
City Fair really happen. As I've said, visitors from where I used to live would come to attend
the Baltimore City Fair. Everybody thought it was a wonderful event. What was the core
of that success that tied the city together? Arguably, but this is my opinion, the first
thing is the people who organized it. We were able for a period of years, 10-12 years, to
enlist the damnedest array of talent to put this thing together you ever saw in your life.
I believe a good portion of that had to do with the fact that we were able to supply
this talent with toys they had never been able to play with before in their lives.
You take one example, an accounting type got to be out there with a crane running it, a
30-ton crane, who wandered about, was able to be dirty for four days as we put this event
on. And he made himself available for 36 hours a day during this period. Where 4-letters
words didn't violate anybody's, well actually, I think that's all the language consisted
of during this period. Where you were expected to achieve incredible feats with nothing,
that is very few resources. Some hand tools, you had a team of people.
Where did the funding come from? Generally we raised the money from businesses.
That was a major task. It was the major task of the Director to raise the money. And typically
the Fair at its peak years, '73-'74 probably had a budget of $800,000 to a million dollars.
That came from ticket sales and contributions, in-kind services from the city, whatever else
you could beg, borrow or steal. We never really made any money. I think maybe we showed profit,
over the twenty-one years, maybe four years, showed a surplus, which we used the following
years, because now we could go bigger.
But at the heart of the thing, when we started it, there were actually only twelve, I'll
use the term authentic neighborhoods that participated. Fair figures say nineteen. Seven
of those nineteen were, we call it ersatz neighborhoods, things created by HCD to participate
under one or another government programs. But, they weren't really neighborhoods.
Now twelve neighborhoods isn't much, but we had a hell of a good time. And those twelve
neighborhoods did, they produced a synergistic effect that somehow transmitted itself to
people who came. And these were the bright lights in the city. This is what we had to
sell. It was Windsor Hills and Govans and Northwood and Union Square and Georgie Edgerton's
organization out in Wallbrook and Dr. Naomi Camper's garden club. And these were the gems
that were active. This is what consisted of Baltimore pretty much of old. And that is
what we were elevating. How did you manage to get BG&E to put you
on loan for such an extended period? That was in '72. I had a funny job at BG&E.
I had a job that no one was ever able to describe, in terms of when it came to a job description.
No one was ever able to describe my job. Because I did a lot of funny things, and subsequently
Bernie Trusher became Chairman, and said, "I let you go, but you always march to your
own damn drummer. I never knew exactly what you were doing, but it seemed to turn out
alright. So we went along with it. That's why I let you get away with this stuff…"
I was irregular.
The company, certainly in those days, BG&E was very conscious of its position in the
community. It was of the community. I mean we had a rule, the object of the employment
role was to employ as many families or representatives of as many families as possible. Therefore,
if you were my brother you couldn't come to work for BG&E if I worked there. One of us
had to go. It was probably a pretty sound set of policies. It gave maximum coverage,
that is everybody knew somebody who worked there. And that was important to us.
And our officers were of Baltimore. They weren't like these companies we have today where these
hired guns come in from East Upchuck at $700 million to run a company. These were men who
probably graduated from Poly, acorps [SIC]. They were of Baltimore. They were proud of
their product. They knew that the town had to prosper. That was relatively easy. Actually,
at the time C. Edward Otterbald was the Chairman, and he readily made me available. I think
they might have made me available to get me out of the circuit for six months or a year.
Not really.
But the other side of it is, it was also expected that you would succeed. It wasn't the case
to go out there and do the window dressing, posture. You were expected to succeed, and
you were expected to report back that you succeeded. And somebody else better report
that you succeeded. I wasn't surplus wood. I was supposed to accomplish something. Someplace
around here I've got a letter on the subject. One took it seriously.
And part of that was the success of the City Fair.
I suppose. You suggested in an interview done 30 years
ago that a lot of the other events, like the Fells Point neighborhood festival spun off
from the City Fair. No. No, no, no. The Fells Point Festival led.
The Fells Point Festival was two years older. Oh, so that fed in too.
It suggested the possibility. There were certainly things we studied about the Fells Point Festival.
But it was two years older. It started in '68, might have been three years, '67. Quite
a different kind of event. Because down here in Fells Point we were into alternative lifestyle
at that point. It was alternative. And it was a one-day event. It was Sunday afternoon
as I recall. The first two or three were just single days. But it was an indication that
there was a life.
Now, the ethnic festival. There had been ethnic festivals around town for many, many years.
They were worth study. They were fairly well confined. Not huge mass things, certainly
nothing like the City Fair. And not what the ethnic festivals became once we get to '74-'75,
they became very large also. The City Fair was unique. It tried to learn some lessons.
We had to learn quite a bit about crowd control. People who put on the City Fair had no qualifications.
Why did it dwindle away, do you think? It seems to me that after it moved under the
Jones Falls Expressway, that seemed to be the knell.
The two I don't believe are really related. Let's get the Jones Falls Expressway out of
the way. The City Fair went under the Jones Falls Expressway because I wanted it there.
Did you? Why did you want it there? Well, there were several problems that we
confronted. Wiring up that fair ground electrically for three days was reaching the point of being
absolutely prohibitive. It was costing us $300-400,000 a year just to wire it up. Secondly,
by its very nature, being moved around year after year. There were enormous costs we had
to encounter every year, one time costs that were becoming prohibitive. If I moved from
this site to that site, things changed. I need other stuff.
Now in, let's see I had it in '85, yeah, that was my year as Chairman. And I took that job
only on the condition that I'd be allowed to put it under the expressway. And my rationale
was, we'll wire it up hard, once. We have some protection against the weather, and we
can decorate it so that it is a festive place. Well, that's sort of like the objectives of
Iraq. They're good objectives. But, as it turns out, I sort of ran out of money to decorate
it. However, it still worked.
And it probably would have worked if we hadn't gotten that stupid administration that followed
William Donald, whose ability to imagine was somewhere around zero, and who also, incidentally,
wanted to do away with Shaffer-inspired operations. But that isn't the reason the Fair failed.
I think the Fair came to an end because we lost the ability to attract the kind of talent,
the volunteer talent that we had been able to attract lo those many years. When you get
into the mid-80's, we're now into another world. We're in the heart of the Reagan years.
Go go. Go go for get get. Here's a guy who's Chairman
one year, Tom Mobley. He runs McCormick Place in Chicago. Well, for eight or nine years
we had Tom Mobley as a volunteer! There is no way on earth I could attract that kind
of talent, who would give me anywhere from 200 to 1000 hours a year of help today. No
way on earth! That was the lifeblood of the City Fair. Now, that kind of talent, by '85,
it wasn't there. Now, by virtue of my own position, I was able to pull a lot of people
out of semi-retirement, lean on them, bend their arms, and get it out of them.
But, with respect to the City Fair, that was my biggest mistake. I should not have taken
the Chairmanship. It should have ended then. Because, after that, it peters out. And, certainly
you didn't get the help, the in-kind services that you got from the city, but it peters
out after that. That was probably the dumbest thing I ever did. However, in all fairness
to the rest of the world, it was my fault, because I had an ego trip on. I did. I wanted
to make it work. But, by this time, you had already started
to focus on the harbor... Oh, I'm already into the harbor, been into
the harbor ten years, into the harbor fifteen years at that point!
Had that started with the paddle boats? Yeah, well that all started in 1975. We opened
up July 4th, 1975. During these years you are working for BG&E,
you're involved with the City Fair, you been involved in the Govans project, what got you
down to the Harbor? Ah, it was the City Fair. You see, in '72,
when I was executive director, it was my honor and pleasure to sort of open the harbor up
with the City Fair. While there had been pieces of the Fair down there, in '72, we put most
of it down there. We had neighborhood tents and institution on the main stage and a lot
of stuff like that. Now, one of the things that I just did, I became an impresario, and
I put on a water ski show in '72. Now, a water ski show in 1972 in Baltimore Harbor was absolutely
absurd. They thought we were stark raving mad. And a lovely group in Northeast Maryland,
I guess it was Northeast Ski Club did this for us.
Well, on that Sunday afternoon, it was October 1, 1972, that Sunday afternoon, we had the
damnedest traffic jam in the harbor, beautiful golden autumn afternoon, but the damnedest
boat traffic jam in the harbor you ever saw in your life. And I looked at it and said,
"Go to Hell!" And by the middle of November, I had a proposal into Charles Center and the
harbor to put a boat rental facility in, actually sailboats, not sailboats, catamarans. That
one-hour-two-hour period on that Sunday afternoon, was again seminal in terms of my life. It
took another two or three years for things to sort themselves out, because when we built
the Fair, what we built for the Fair, in the harbor that weekend, we moved in immediately
behind the contractors who were moving out who had just finished the seawall.
We were the first event there, and had the north shore there where the World Trade Center
around to, I guess it was Conway Street. That was our property there, that area. It was
the first thing to take place at the renewed Harbor. And I was privileged to see these
possibilities. That led to ultimately the dock where most famous for the paddleboats,
which were unceremoniously ripped out of my hands by the Schmoke administration, but at
any rate, and the sailboats, sort of as an afterthought, which the water taxis are, it
led to the water taxis. What made you start thinking about the paddleboats?
I needed to make some money. It is easier to rent paddleboats than it is sailboats.
Sailboats are wonderful. I love sailing, my kids love sailing. We had a lot of fun sailing.
But we couldn't make any money sailing, and you gotta pay the bills, and I was in no way,
shape or form able to engage in this as, well I wasn't a rich man, I couldn't afford this
But the paddleboats paid the bills. And the object of the activity was to make the harbor
more attractive to more people, and a hell of a lot more people can operate a paddleboat
than they can a sailboat. Did the paddleboats take off right away?
Pretty much. Yeah, there was never any problem there.
Did the paddleboats lead to the water taxi? Not a straight line...
The fact that we were there is what led to it. That's a funny story. William Donald Schaefer
was perhaps one of the most accessible mayors this city has ever had. He was easy to track,
particularly if you were friends with people on his staff. He had a driver, Chuck Knowles,
who was a neat guy. Occasionally I had to see William Donald. You'd call Chuck up and
say, "Where is her going to be tomorrow morning?" He would say, "Well, gee, he's going to do
his harbor walk through tomorrow." "What time?" "6:30." "OK." And you'd go down and stand
behind a potted palm and come out and walk up the promenade with him.
One of those Tuesdays, about 1976. And he says, "Ed, I want a boat that goes from here
to there." I said, "Why? There ain't nothin' here, and there ain't nothin' there!" He says,
"But there will be." He says, "Give me a boat that runs back and forth." That was basically
from the amphitheater, now Harbor Place there, to the amphitheater where the Science Center
would be. Neither was there.
I allowed as how "It's gonna cost some money." He said, "I'll give you an extension on your
lease." So I agreed to do something, a boat, we didn't call it a water taxi then.
Now this was in '70... It was spring of '76. And we fooled with it
and it took awhile, but I finally found a boat that I could afford, that was cheap enough,
that I could afford to lose money on if I had to, which I did for some time. We started
the water taxi in '77. Just that one straight line.
Yeah, more or less irregularly. Sometimes it ran, sometimes it didn't. It was interesting,
I was imbued with the desire to be environmentally sensitive. My first boat, which was Fair City
I, was a little pontoon boat, twenty-one passengers. Had a little plastic roof on it, and was powered
with two three-horsepower electric motors, with a very, very bad control system. The
control system would burn up with some degree of frequency. Because it was all electromechanical
relays. And they would stick and there'd be a loose connection. The battery cables would
heat up.
But, it wasn't terribly important, because there wasn't anybody rushing. It isn't like
we were moving people any place, because there wasn't anyplace to go. And we fooled with
it, actually I still have those two motors someplace.
So, it was just a boat ride to the passengers. Yeah, it was twenty-five cents. And, the thing
of it is, it was a boat ride to nowhere. It didn't cost much, it didn't lose much. Sometimes
it ran, sometimes it didn't. Nobody seemed to care. And we fooled with it for what, oh
'77 to '80. We didn't really go at it seriously until '81. And in '81, the event, well two
things were happening. One. the city finally to building some decent landings for us, and
two, the Aquarium opens in August of '81. And that's the cornerstone, the Aquarium is
the cornerstone of the development of our harbor, not Harborplace.
Really! Yes, I'm going to get in trouble on that.
You know, everybody thinks in term of Harborplace as what happened almost as if the Aquarium
was an adjunct to Harborplace, which is the conventional attitude.
Well, it was there first, but it's not the key to the success, not the key to the success.
I couldn't convince you to come down here from some god-awful place in mid Pennsylvania
to go to Harborplace. To go to a shopping center? There are a lot of good shopping centers.
If we take a look at what I'll call, and Harborplace is an example of what was called Festival
Hall shop. It is a concept developed by the Rouse Company, a brilliant concept, and it
seems to work very well at Faneiul Hall in Boston, which is the founding site of this
kind of idea. But it never was really that successful. It was successful in Boston, it
was successful in Baltimore. And virtually everyplace else, festival hall shopping at
best is mediocre in terms of success, because it very rapidly becomes the same. If I've
got a festival hall in Baltimore, it's sort of the same as the one in Toledo, Ohio, or
Norfolk, Virginia, or Miami. They are essentially the same. And by virtue of that proclivity
of large organization to go to efficiency, so you've got the Cordovan Leather Company
in Baltimore. Say, we'll make a deal with you, but you've got to put one in each of
the others. With the result, they very, very rapidly become the same. Now, why in Hell
would I want to travel 600 miles to go and wee the same thing. Harborplace was important.
It was important because it was a step forward, but it's not the key to the success of the
And one of the fascinating things about Harborplace was that the first two and a half years was
indeed built on Baltimorean. And it was built on Baltimoreans because of something else
we talked about, which had to do with the fact that for ten years we had been building
a constituency for the harbor via City Fair and a whole range of other activities wherein
people were being dragged to the harbor for various reasons, mainly the ethnic festivals
and the City Fair. We had Op Sail in '76, which was a huge success. We had built a constituency,
so that people were curious, and for the first two and a half seasons almost, it was Baltimoreans
who made Harborplace a success. The bars and restaurants became Mecca’s for Baltimoreans.
Not out of town tourists. Not out-of-towners, they weren't here yet.
They don't appear until really 1982. That is when they began appearing. That makes sense.
You do not build a tourist attraction overnight. This was built over a period of years. You
must convince the industry to come to your town. You must tell them.
So, you were talking about the aquarium really being a draw, opening in '81, the out-of-towners
starting to appear in '82, and it was the Aquarium that was the key to the tourism draw.
Oh, the Aquarium is the sine qua non of our whole tourism trade. It is the unique element,
and one of the interesting things about the Aquarium, and I hate to say this, but it is
truly the only international destination success we have ever had in the harbor, if you ignore
the ballparks. Well, we all remember Don Schafer in his 1900
bathing suit and straw hat being in Time Magazine. But it is the central element without which
nothing. They, thank God, have been very conscious of the importance of their role, and have
worked very hard at keeping it as a primary attraction to the harbor, well for their own
purposes, but to the benefit of the rest of us who are in this new field to Baltimore
called tourism.
Because one of the things that's important certainly to the city, is the fact that tourism
in Baltimore is the only industry the city has invented since World War II that works,
and somehow or other it seems to get ignored with some degree of frequency as being of
no importance, yet at this time we probably have somewhere between 28 and 40,000 people
who depend on tourism as the source of their livelihood.
And you think this radiates out to the health of the city.
Oh, absolutely. Look, we'll go back to '72. Let's use '72 as an index year. In 1972, if
you wanted a good restaurant downtown, you had Tio Pepes, you had I forgot the name of
the seafood restaurant down there on Baltimore Street, Haussner's, Danny's, Prime Rib, Marconi's,
maybe a couple of others. You would just barely fill two hands. Today, you can come up with
two dozen.
Does tourism radiate out? Obviously it does, with all of the staff and everything. In 1972,
you had what was then the Hilton … and the Lord Baltimore Hotel. That was it. The Belvedere,
I guess, was there. They were the hotels. Does tourism radiate out? You bet your sweet
bippy. That has to be kept on … I know that Phillips opened their Harborplace
restaurants in 1980, and now it is one of the leading grossing seafood restaurants in
the entire country. Did it really take a long time …
Yeah, Phillips was a success from the beginning.
Well, we've had to learn and we are still learning. We've had to learn the skills for
being a tourist town. We didn't have the skills. We didn't have the people. We didn't have
the services. We didn't know what the hell we were doing.
What caused you to expand the water taxi along the way? Was the Aquarium an impetus to expanding
the water taxi, too? Fells Point, Fells Point. If you're gonna
run a transportation service and expect to make money, you gotta transport people someplace.
And that's the simple... and we had to find places to go. And Fells Point became the place
to go when we started.