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The Tentacle


May 13, 2005

Bless The Ladies!

Roy Meachum

Downtown Frederick won another award last Monday. The National Trust for Historic Preservation pegged us in a very elite group. Only four other communities in the nation rated this year's Great American Main Street Award. That can go on a wall close to those other tributes, notably the All-American City plaque.

The newest award capped off what Pushkin's friends along North Market Street called a "fantastic" Saturday, when some merchants racked up their best sales ever. If you couldn't get here, let me tell you May Fest attracted wall-to-curb happy throngs.

Instead of magic, the old business district has Kara Norman, but that might be the same thing. As executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, she's been the secret weapon behind what started out to be Gallery Walk, which has grown into the best thing that's happened to this old town since Elizabeth Peters.

Elizabeth Peters? She was the lady who put the community on the path that led to those major awards. She made the first concrete move to preserve the city's traditional core, by saving Winchester Hall and the Church Street mansion that houses the county's historical society. That was when Paul Magaha was mayor and a young Ron Young served on the Board of Aldermen.

Let me give you some other names: Architect Fritz Bowers laid out the basic plan to modernize downtown. Dick Kline chaired the Downtown Action Committee, whose ranks included Peggy Pilgrim and Carroll Hendrickson; this was the outfit that commissioned the 1971 development plan that served as guide for everything that subsequently happened.

The committee also hired consultant David Bork who was in charge of converting the skeptical. An old newspaper clipping reports how Mr. Bork and Mr. Kline camped out on Market Street in a bus that was parked around, looking for people to join their crusade. Those two were downtown's dynamic duo, grabbing hands and lapels, talking and smiling for anyone and everyone they could get close to.

The key to all their hopes was, of course, finding parking places in what was essentially an 18th century horses-and-wagons city. That task was given to merchant Allen Routzahn. His Downtown Frederick Association committee fought for the parking deck on East Church Street.

Alderman Young, by all reports, was the most enthusiastic official in City Hall about the efforts. When he became mayor, in 1975, the formidable proposition was off and running. Over the next 16 years with a combination of political muscle, hard work and a willingness to listen, Ron Young pushed, yelled and grunted into being the Frederick you see today.

What is now the happy hyperactive pandemonium of In the Street started with a quiet stroll; the mayor led a very willing band of residents down North Market Street, just after all the power lines were buried and the curbs reset. I was on the stroll. When it was over, we quietly dispersed.

Over these measurable 30 years, businesses and residents alike were investing their money and their lives into bringing life roaring back in the area that had been all but abandoned, tossed aside for the new malls. I now live in a house initially stripped to become a company's offices. It is today one of historic Frederick's elegant secrets, thanks to Sharon Meachum, the interior decorating genius who was my wife.

What happens downtown is very much a personal issue. Though I've moved twice I've never lived anyplace else in Frederick. My English pointer pal and I appreciate everyone who instilled new life in this old city, beginning with Elizabeth Peters and right down to Kara Norman. The fellas won't mind if I bless the ladies. But thank you, one and all. You all deserve awards, plaques and crowns for creating the place we love.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation simply recognized what Pushkin and I have known for years: we promenade every day on the Great American Main Street.



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