Well, this is scary to say the least. Over the past three months, an arsonist has been throwing crudely constructed Molotov cocktails at residences and public spaces throughout Baltimore, with at least 12 incidents since April 29. Thankfully, no injuries have resulted so far.
Open Space, one of Baltimore’s most-treasured arts spaces, was hit with a two-alarm fire last evening. We’re glad to report that, aside from a firefighter who was sent to the hospital with minor injuries, no one was seriously hurt, and the living and music-recording spaces suffered minimal damage. One resident’s pet pot belly pig is also fine. The fire was mostly confined to the auto body shop that shares the building with Open Space; no word yet as to the damage there.
Anyone who wants to help Open Space deal with the fire’s aftermath is welcomed to stop by the building (2720 Sisson Street) today before 5 PM armed with “trash bags, boxes, moving supplies of any kind, transportation, storage, and… helping hands.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed the particular autumnal smokiness to the air in Baltimore over the past couple of days. Unfortunately for Baltimore, it’s not just the afterglow of fireworks; the city has seen several serious fires break out over the past two weeks. In the past couple of days alone, we’ve seen a car fire on 83 that made post-Super Bowl traffic even worse and a 4-alarm fire at Penn Lumber in West Baltimore. Even more scary: one of the crucial truck companies that helped put out the Penn Lumber fire (and helped resuscitate a victim who “otherwise would surely have died”) just barely escaped being shut down last year.
The Mt. Washington Tavern opens today at 5 p.m., almost exactly one year after a devastating fire caused more than $1 million worth of damage to the restaurant. The new and improved Tavern features an all new interior design, a refurbished exterior, better flow and an updated menu. The grand re-opening will be held the night before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 21.
Five months ago, a multi-alarm fire destroyed the Mt. Washington Tavern, a long-time neighborhood staple. Today, owners Dave Lichty and Rob Frisch released the sketch, below, of the new and improved Tavern, to re-open in the late fall/early winter. Architect Walter Schamu of SMG Architects, whose portfolio includes the rebuild of the B&O Railroad Museum, the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center and the Bromo Seltzer Tower, and Jim Macko of Kodiak Construction whose resume includes Clipper City Brewery Company and Mustang Alley will re-build the restaurant.
“After the devastating loss we knew we wanted to go with an architect and builder who would not compromise the historic nature and personality of the tavern. This establishment has meant so much to so many for more than 30 years. We quickly recognized that the talent of Walter and his team along with Jim Macko are the perfect fit to accomplish this,” says Rob Frisch, co-owner, Mt. Washington Tavern.
The fire that started at the popular bar and restaurant at about 5 a.m. this morning has been put out by the Baltimore City Fire Department. Relieved that no one was hurt and moved by the outpouring of support from the community, the owners posted this message on the tavern’s Facebook page:
To our valued customers, friends,
What a morning. We may be down but we are certainly not out. The fire has taken the Tavern for now but we look very forward to rebuilding and being better than ever.
We are so thankful for the outpouring of support already and even more so that our customers and employees were unharmed. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. We will keep you posted as news develops and look forward to celebrating with you at our grand re-opening.
Rob and Dave and the whole MWT team
Film crews can be pretty careless about others’ personal property when working on location. For them, it’s here today and gone tomorrow, and if they leave a place a little worse for the wear, well they paid a fee, and that’s how it goes. But as experts in illusion, they can usually cover their whoopsies pretty well.
Around 1980, I worked on a film about Baltimore’s celebrated 18th century African-American astronomer, Benjamin Banneker. One of the locations, in an old section of Baltimore, was the Poe House, where the hapless poet had lived for several years as he bounced between Richmond, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. His grave was less than a mile away.
The curator was rightly very nervous about our using the historic and invaluable site, but they needed the hefty location fee to keep the doors open (the Poe house is in one of Baltimore’s bleakest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods, and people were afraid to go there). He laid down specific ground rules of no food, no drinks, no smoking, which we absolutely swore we would follow. Around noon the curator left to go to lunch, and said if we went to lunch, leave someone there to guard the place.
After finishing our shots, we went out to lunch, figuring we’d wrap up when we returned. We forgot to leave a guard, but at least locked the door behind us. A half-hour later, we returned, opened the door, and found the house full of smoke. In a panic, we ran upstairs which was even thicker with smoke, and saw one of the hot movie lights had been left on under the lintel of a doorway. It was smoking the paint off and charring the wood black.
No water was upstairs, but we had brought back bottles of soda. We shook them up, and sprayed about a gallon on the red-glowing, smoking wood, like fire extinguishers, soaking it and half the room creating billowing clouds of Pepsi steam to add to the smoke.
The art crew quickly started mopping up the mess, and brought a can of white paint to “dress” the still-steaming lintel. Through the window, I saw the curator walking up the sidewalk. I pulled out my pack of cigarettes, gave one to each crew member, then told them to sit at the bottom of the stairs, smoke up a storm, and sip their sodas— but whatever, don’t let the curator upstairs.
The curator opened the door and shrieked as the smoke hit him in the face. Enraged, he pulled the lounging crew out of the house and dressed them down on the sidewalk. Hadn’t he expressly told them no smoking and no drinking in the house? Were they morons? Idiots? Had they no respect for anything? Everyone apologized profusely, and we opened the windows to air the house out. By the time the curator had calmed, the art department had finished their clean-up, including freshly painting the lintel, still quite warm to the touch. We quickly packed and left.
We never ever heard back from the curator. In the dim upstairs light, I guess he didn’t notice the damage, though at least an inch of the doorway had been charred or chipped away. In the end, I suppose it looked like any other well-used 150 year-old Baltimore row house. We had only added to Poe’s many mysteries. Archeologists a hundred years from now, scratching away at the old house will perhaps wonder why a doorway, of all things, would suddenly catch fire. Ghosts? Poe himself, in a moment of madness? Perhaps.
Robert Maier lives in Davidson, N.C.. and is the author of “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters”. You can read more of his stories on his blog. The Poe House has faced serious budget cuts recently and its fate is still questionable. Several fund raisers are underway to help keep the historic house open.