Saturday, December 1, 2007

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What You're Saying
Growing Concern
H. L. Mencken
Thank you for "Mr. Mencken's Neighborhood" (November), which brought back keen memories. In 1980, I was president of the Union Square Association and the neighborhood's representative to the Mencken Centennial Planning Committee. For our contribution to the celebrations, neighbors decided to restore Henry Louis Mencken's rear garden. We canvassed older residents as to how the yard looked. Mr. Bock, a gentleman in his 90s and a longtime resident of the 1500 block of Hollins Street, donated prunings from now-mature shrubs and trees that once were clippings shared with him by H. L. Mencken. About a month later, the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMB), then the owner of 1524 Hollins Street, was contacted by NBC's Today Show wanting to broadcast from the yard on Mencken's one-hundredth birthday. Overnight, UMB "Dumpstered" our research and effort and re-landscaped the yard with all the sensitivity of a McDonald's parking lot.

In 1983, UMB swapped the Mencken House with the city for the Old Pine Street Station, adjacent to the school's campus. An extensive and expensive renovation of the Mencken House was announced. By then, I had restored five houses in Union Square, so I had some knowledge of building costs. Although now I can't recall how much was reportedly spent, I was amazed by both the bottom line and by the fact that, after a detailed inspection, I could see scant evidence of any work actually done.

Neither the University of Maryland nor Baltimore City have been worthy stewards of the Mencken shrine. It is time to try control by a private nonprofit. I am keen on the concept of making the house a "living" literary workshop. At different times, both Dashiell Hammett and Russell Baker were neighbors, and the Poe House is not far away. The headquarters of the Maryland Library Association is in the 1400 block of Hollins Street. The seeds are there to grow a working memorial to Baltimore's "Sage!"

—Gary F. Suggars lived in Union Square from 1974 to 1985. He works in real estate, concentrating on historic properties.

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