On August 14, 1957, the Baltimore Sun published an editorial inspired by the proposal to locate a new Civic Center in Druid Hill Park despite strong objections by the Baltimore Park Board. More broadly, the piece highlights some of the consequential choices that Baltimore made in the 1940s and 1950s when they traded parkland for police stations and highways. This is, in part, the story of how the Western District Police Station replaced a playground at Mount Street and Riggs Avenue.
“Under the city charter the Park Board has “charge and control” of all park property. A guardian for the park system, with the power to say “no,” is needed because proposals to encroach on park property are being made all the time. Sometimes public interest justifies the proposals. Sometimes it does not. The Park Board is there to make such determinations, always with the welfare of the parks in mind.
We offer a few examples, just to show the kind of pressure the park system is under:
The State wanted 21 acres of undeveloped land in Herring Run Park in connection with plans for the Northeast expressway and the approach to the Harbor Tunnel. The Park Board went along with this.
This had the effect of cutting off 50 other acres of Herring Run Park. The city asked for these acres for a site for a new wholesale market. The Park Board went along. Total loss to Herring Run: 71 acres.
In planning an extension of Perring parkway, the city wanted 5 acres of the Mount Pleasant golf course. The Park Board was able to acquire some partially compensating acreage and went along.
The city concluded that a playground at Fulton and Riggs avenues, for which the Park Board planned further development, would be the ideal site for a new police station. The Park Board was finally convinced, and co-operated.
The city also wanted an acre of land, near Hurley and Fonthill avenues, for another police station. This was park of Gwynns Falls Park, but the Park Board, finding it not particularly desirable for park purposes ,went along.
Park land along Mount Royal terrace was plainly needed for the Jones Falls expressway. The board yielded the land after a scheme had been worked out which gives compensating advantages in return for the lost land.
Some time back, to relieve traffic congestion, the city proposed extensions of McCulloh street and Druid Hill avenue to drive through the southwest corner of Druid Hill Park. The Park Board acquiesced in this plea of necessity, after standing up for a minimum of impairment.
At one stage in the civic-center proceedings, a site in Clifton Park was proposed. Northing came of this.
At another stage in the same proceedings, a proposal was made to take over the small park adjacent to the Mount Royal Station. Nothing came of this.
These are merely a few of the more conspicuous episodes in what might be called a continuous war of attrition against the parks. They point up the necessity for a semi-autonomous body with power to pass judgment on all schemes for reducing out precious park acreage.
But now the authority of this body, the Park Board, has been defied. When the Mayor and City Council seized 30 acres of Druid Hill Park land for a civic center site, they did so against the will of the Park Board. If this seizure stands unchallenged, a shadow lies across the board’s supposed powers. The guardian of our park system will have been disarmed.
Source: “Disarmed.” The Sun (1837-1989). August 14, 1957. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Image: Protesters sit outside the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District police station at the end of a march for Freddie Gray, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) via WTOP.