Merchants, real estate developers and city officials, ever eager to gussie up the image of the battered ethnic neighborhoods of this port city, have never quite known what to do with Pigtown.
Pigtown? Yes, all you good folks in Washington's Swampoodle and Foggy Bottom areas, there is a Pigtown in Baltimore.
Or at least there was, until its identity was officially banished sometime back and its name changed to the bland but gentrified "Washington Village."
But that is the stuff of images. Oldtime families in Pigtown -- and there are hundreds of them in the boisterous, friendly, rough-and-tumble enclave of narrow row houses just a stone's throw from Baltimore's glittering Inner Harbor -- aren't impressed with cosmetics. They still call it Pigtown.
"This place will always be called Pigtown," says Gene Buscemi, 43, manager, bartender and chief opinion molder at the Pigtowne Tavern, a popular linoleum-and-Formica hangout at Cross and Carroll streets.
"It's the greatest place in the world," said James W. Baker, a bindery equipment repairman and self-described hillbilly transplanted from Kentucky, as he sat in the Pigtowne Tavern the other day. "The name should stick."
"To me, it's a term of endearment," says Mary Donaldson, 63, a born-and-raised Pigtowner who lives in the middle of it all on Ostend Street, where 100 years ago stockmen chased droves of hogs from Camden railroad station to the slaughterhouses in South Baltimore, drives that gave the area its name.
Despite official banishment, there are some substantial outward signs that the name Pigtown is not about to go away. In addition to the durable Pigtowne Tavern, the letterhead of the neighborhood's improvement association, the Southwest Community Council, is emblazoned with the likeness of a pig. Local newpapers still refer to the area routinely as Pigtown. And there are the bright orange Pigtown T-shirts that the natives wear, bearing a happy pig scrubbing itself in a suds-filled tub under the inscription "Pigtown Will Shine." That motto is also the theme of community anthem sung for generations and based on the old public baths on Washington Boulevard.
But newly arrived residents, many of them young professionals riding the wave of row house renovation in Baltimore's traditional blue-collar neighborhoods in the past five to 10 years, shun the name.
"I think it's a real drawback," says Tammy Kurzmack, 26, who with her husband, Mark, a computer programmer, moved to Baltimore from San Francisco almost four years ago and chose Pigtown -- oops, Washington Village -- for its downtown convenience.
When the Kurzmacks were looking at remodeled row houses, real estate agents never called the area Pigtown, Tammy Kurzmack recalled. "They presented it as 'Washington Village,' definitely."
"What we've had is gentrification," said the Rev. James Dowdy, pastor of St. Jerome's Roman Catholic Church, a venerable gray stone institution in the heart of Pigtown, "and with some of the gentry, the name Pigtown doesn't sit too well. . . . The yuppies . . . are a little uncomfortable with it."
But, says Dave Whitman, longtime Pigtown merchant and an opponent of the Pigtown name, "we've got a new breed coming in here. They're accustomed to buying $50,000 or $60,000 houses with a dishwasher and garbage disposal. . . . Do you think they want to be called Pigtown?"
Whitman, 76, who has owned Whitman's Dry Goods on Washington Boulevard since 1929, said he and fellow merchants voted in 1978 to rename the area "Washington Village." That was about the same time that the Southwest Community Council also decided to redesignate Pigtown as "Washington Village" after staging a name-changing contest with a $50 prize.
The following year, the Baltimore City Council enacted an ordinance approving an urban renewal plan for the area. The legislation referred to the area as "Washington Village," thus officially recognizing the new name and eradicating "Pigtown" from government records forever.
But it didn't really work. "They wanted to give the place a little more -- what do you call it? -- dignity, class," said Buscemi the other day, as the fellows at his tavern nodded agreement. "Things started changing here when the developers came in. The name of the tune is making money . . . but the name of this place is Pigtown."
Ever since the slaughterhouse days, the Pigtown name has stuck. It even became a rallying cry for one of Pigtown's two favorite sons, a rough-and-ready populist named Frank C. Wachter who was swept to Congress in 1898 on his vow to fight suffragettes and other "silk stocking advocates" who scorned his neighborhoods.
Pigtown's other favorite son is baseball great Babe Ruth, born and raised at 216 Emory St.