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Howard Street’s fallen arches evoke few cries of nostalgia

The distinctive archways that lined Howard Street and overlooked the light rail tracks in downtown Baltimore are gone, but few tears are being shed for the quirky 1980s-era street decorations.

A light rail train passes the spot where the Howard Street arches once stood.

“They were just a very dated feature,” said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. “They suggested … Baltimore wasn’t moving forward.”

The removal of the four archways, between Baltimore and Saratoga streets, was perhaps the most notable alteration to the Howard Street corridor and part of a $4 million project intended to revitalize that sliver of the West Side.

Fowler and other city leaders gathered Friday afternoon to celebrate the completion of the Maryland Transit Administration-led project, which also included moving a light rail stop one block from north of Fayette Street to just north of Lexington Street, building new shelters at light rail and bus stops and planting trees.

Eight new power poles also were added. The arches had contained some light rail wiring. Project costs were shared by the Downtown Partnership, Baltimore Development Corp., the MTA and the city.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the changes were a first step toward attracting business and residents to the area.

“As good as it looks, I want to assure everyone that we’re not done yet,” Rawlings-Blake said. “The West Side is primed for growth because of access to public transportation. … The West Side is ready for growth and for change.

“We can turn the West Side into a neighborhood where people of all income levels want to live, want to work and want to play.”

Ralign T. Wells, the MTA administrator, said moving the southbound light rail stop further up Howard Street brought light rail closer to the Metro subway, which has a stop one block away at Lexington Market.

Add to that a nearby bus stop, and Wells said the intersection of Howard and Lexington becomes a place where “all of our core services meet,” making it prime real estate for businesses.

“This project is a major step toward reviving the Howard Street corridor,” Wells said.

As for the arches, Wells said the structures did little but obstruct the views up and down Howard Street, which is lined by historic buildings.

The arches were installed under former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer as part of a plan to lure residents and tourists back to Howard Street shops in 1986.

But the Maryland Historical Society and the Baltimore City Historical Society said they’d received no complaints about the removal of the arches, which had little historical value.

Don Torres, who volunteers at the city’s historical society, said the arches were really “just sort of a little cosmetic thing.”

“I don’t put a lot of historical importance or emphasis on that work,” Torres said.

Neither, apparently, do the city leaders who were in attendance Friday afternoon. The crowd laughed at each disparaging reference to the arches and applauded their removal.

M. J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., was especially pleased to see the arches go.

“This is a big step, because it removed … our favorite arches,” Brodie said, sarcasm dripping from his words. “There should be one sent to the Smithsonian.”