In yet another show of their city's remarkable flair, an assemblage of notable Baltimoreans broke ground yesterday for a permanent home of the Baltimore Symphony orchestra.
"An end to the gypsy life," jubilated conductor Sergiu Commissiona. who, working out of crates and instrument cases, in rented halls has brought the Baltimore Symphony increasing recognition.
"It will rank with the great festival halls of Europe in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] percent technological advances with the [LINE ILLEGIBLE] bousted Pietro Belluschi, who with Robert Brannen, designed the new symphony hall.
The Maryland Concert Center, as it is officially called, looks like a giant, squared conch shell, seats 2,400, costs 15 million and also accommodates modest ballet and opera productions.
Only a dozen or so years ago, Baltimore was high on the critical list. One-third of the city's housing was rated "poor" or "very poor". The downtown business district was a decinling sum. Residents were feeling.
Baltimore's dramatic recovery is in part a matter of unusually adroit handing of the usual urban renewal and rousing programs. In larger part, however, Baltimore came back because it never lost its pride, it held on to its civic spirit and its culture - both the city's old patrician culture and its more recent ethnic culture.
Because of this, Baltimore's extensive urban renewal and urban conservation efforts have class - first class.
When the city built Charles Center - a cluster of apartment, hotel and office skyscrapers, rising from inter-connected, car-free plazas somewhat reminiscent of those in Verona - it commissioned Mies van der Rohe to design the first building.
Charles Center is also, to my knowledge, the first business center renewal project in the country to include a legitimate theater. For a year or so, the architecturally intriguing Mechanic Theater was poorly managed. Laterly, however it flourishing with sophisticated Broadway shows and 18,000 subscribers.
When Baltimoe reclaimed its decaying Inner Harbor for new trades and peoples' enjoyment, it asked the renowed I. M. Pei to design the most prominent building, the World Trade Center.
Last Tuesday, in a referendum, the people voted to enliven the Inner Harbor with two market halls, somewhat like Boston's sensationally successful Quincy Market.
Like Quincy Market, the Baltimore "Harbor Place" is to be developed by James Rouse and designed by Benjamin Thompson, one of America's most urbane architects.
When Baltimore ventured the country's most innovative new-town-in-town, Coldsprings, it invited Moshe Safdie, surely the world's top man in housing innovation. Coldsprings was conceived by Robert C. Embry Jr., Baltimore's youthful housing commissioner who is now assistant secretary of housing and urban development.
In addition to these stellar performances, Baltimore is energetically and intelligently rehabilitating its vast and intrinsically charming town houses at the rate of 50 square blocks at a time. It has an exemplary urban homesteading program. It is getting ready to build a subway. It has visibly turned the tide with nothing more going for it - like other old cities along the Eastern Seabord - than that stubborn, cultured local pride.
So while, as elsewhere, people are still leaving the city for "the County," as Baltimore calls its suburbs, they are coming back at night. They are returning to an unusual array of ethnic restaurants. They are visiting two of the finest museums in the country, the Baltimore Museum and the Walters, both of which are expanding. They make up half of the 18,000 subscribers of the Mechanic Theater and help fill Center Stage, which has 13,000 subscribers and mounts its own productions.
There is also the experimental Project Theater, a struggling ballet compay and - making Baltimore sound awfully good - the internationally renowned Peabody Conservatory.
And now the new symphony hall.
The state legislature helped financially, but the Hall is largely the product of Baltimore's cultural pride, chiefly the philanthropic pride of developer Joseph Meyerhoff.
Architects Belluschi and Brannen have worked together on several performing arts buildings, notably the Juilliard School of Music at New York Citys Lincoln Center and the music hall at Rutgers University.
The Baltimore hall clearly expresses its oval, sloped auditorium. A prominent glass canopy, the lobbies, corridors and service rooms curve around it, with mechanical towers and turrets jutting out at random.
It all adds up to a curvaceous, expressionist architectural sculpture of the kind Erich Mendelsoh often doddled with and seldom got the chance to build. Mendelsohn, a flamboyant architect who was born in Germany and died in San Francisco some 20 years ago, is less known but probably as important as the predominant 20th century triumvirate, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and LeCorbusier.
For good acoustics, the architects rely on an almost baroque array of curved balconies and other interior undulations and indentions of all kinds in addition to a ceiling full of hanging baffles.
How successful this will be acoustically is as hard to foretell from the models and renderings as the esthetic success of the architecture. Acoustics are still an art rather than a science, and the best acoustics engineers will readily admit that they need luck as much as they need slide rules and computers.
But chances are better than even that Baltimore will gain a work of architectural art as well as a Maryland Concert Center. It will join the Lyric Theater, the Theater Project, the Maryland Institute of Arts, the Fifth Regiment Armory and the University of Baltimore in the Mount Royal area, and is supposed to be completed in time for the 1981-82 season.