Monday, December 17, 2007

Baltimore Holiday Memories

I usually do not get personal on this blog but today I feel much more like sharing a holiday memory than talking about the Ravens woes or the steroid in baseball issue. Hey, it's my blog, I can do what I want.

So my maternal grandmother would take us three grandchildren downtown just before Christmas every year. She never got a driver's license, so this meant a long, chilly walk for her down to the bus stop on Patapsco Ave, and a transfer downtown to get to our house. We thought it was a treat to ride the MTA bus with Grandma because we never used the bus. This was back in the mid seventies. There was a cord that had to be pulled when our bus stop was coming up to let the driver know we wanted to get off. We all wanted our turn ringing that bell and making the bus stop.

We would head for Howard Street. This used to be the place to shop. We used to have local department stores in Baltimore. We now have none since Hecht Co. sold out to Macy's last year. We would hurry with anticipation to see the displays in the huge plate glass windows of these stores. There was Hutzler's, Hecht's, Hochschild Kohn and Stewarts. These huge departments stores were all on Howard Street at or near Lexington Street.

They were huge, my favorite being Hutzler's. Hutzler's had the Neo-Classical designed "Palace" building and the Art-Deco tower building. This store was established in 1858 and remained the last local department store in downtown Baltimore, finally closing its doors in February of 1989. This local retail giant once occupied 325,000 square feet of space in downtown. My aunt worked for them in the engineering room starting during World War II when the men who once did that kind of work were off to war. She continued in that position even after the men returned, right up until she retired.

Hochschild Kohn was a remarkably beautiful building too. It occupied the northwest corner of Howard and Lexington Streets.

We would anxiously wait our turn to press our faces up to the huge plate glass windows to see the Christmas displays. I remember little animated monkeys who played musical instruments and other Christmas scenes meant to appeal to kids. Imagine, a big plate glass window, usually displaying the latest fashions on mannequins, being used just to entertain kids. If there was anything in those windows that were displayed for the purpose of holiday advertising, I sure don't remember it. The scenes were all magical and greatly anticipated each year. I only wish I had something like this to share with my own children.

We would shop in the grand stores for presents for our parents. We would stop and see Santa and perhaps see the train garden too, although I can't remember where that was.

We would always stop in at Read's Drugstore for a treat, maybe an ice cream sundae. Then Grandma would take us back to the burbs with our treasures on the number 20 bus.

These grand stores started closing their downtown locations in the late 70's, favoring the suburban shopping mall. Eventually they all went out of business and now there are no local giant department stores and no Read's Drugstore either.

I realize as I write this, I am starting to sound like an old person.


NJG said...

Nice memories and pics...seems like you've gotta get your ass up to the Big Apple for a little taste of the past this time of year.

Hotwire said...

wow, as a baltimore boy who longs for days gone by this is one of my all time favorite posts anywhere!

all of those stores were so wonderful and if you don't mind i will revist this post a few times...

thank you for this.

The Diva's Thoughts said...

You have just brought back some really nice memories. I remember in the late 70's going downtown to then Hecht Co,. and Hutzlers. Those buildings were magnificent.

I used to shop at Stewarts!! They had a store in Reisterstown Road Plaza.

Remember The Shopping Plate? It was a local charge card that you could use at those local department stores you mentioned.

Wow the memories. I love Baltimore....I really do but I so need a change of scenery.

I hope more people will see through your posts just how wonderful Baltimore is.

I'd going to do a post about Baltimore tomorrow and feature your blog. I love it.

KB said...

I remember those days. I especially remember the Ice Cream Sudaes upstairs at Reads! I think the Train Garden was at a firehouse somewhere in Hampden Hon, but I am not sure.

Carol Ott said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I miss my grandmother the most at Christmas, and our trips to Garfinkel's (we lived outside DC back in the 70s). It was a big deal to go shopping with her, and we always stopped for lunch at the Woolworth's lunch counter.

And no, you don't sound like an old person! :-)

Thanks again for this wonderful grandma-filled post. Happy holidays to you!

charmcitygirl said...

awwww, you guys.....

hotwire - you can com back and re read as many times as you want. I replay this memory every year at this time and every time I go down Howard Street

diva - I lived right down the street from Westview Mall and used to walk there to go to Hutzlers and Stewarts. Don't recall the Shopping Plate though, I'll be asking my mother about it tonight. I'd love more traffic so I appreciate all the help I can get.

kb - hmm, I thought we went to one downtown a time or two, but your memory is probably better than mine.

Carol - Aren't we blessed to have thse memories? I feel like I had the best grandmother in the world. Whatever happened to the lunch counter? Who didn't love those?

Homer said...

Charmcitygirl, I remember all of the things you described about downtown Baltimore during the holidays, except I saw them in the 1940's and 1950's. I grew up in NE Baltimore City (Hamilton) and my mom would take me downtown on the #15 streetcar and transfer to a bus. By the 1950's, I was taking the trip alone to go downtown to take music lessons on Howard street. It was my favorite place to visit during the holiday. It was safe for a 12 year old to make this trip in those days. I will be 72 next month, so, I guess I am considered old.