Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A peek at how the city's changed on its 284th birthday.
Baltimore, founded on July 30, 1729, wears a lot of its history on its sleeve. Though the city aggressively pursued urban renewal initiatives in the mid- to late 20th century, it has managed to preserve a surprising amount of its infrastructure over time, making for a unique balance of architectural styles.
A hand-drawn map from 1911 designed by Edward Spofford (and via the Library of Congress) shows just how quickly the city rebuilt after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, which destroyed 1,500 buildings over 140 acres of downtown land.
Things have certainly changed since then -- the city endured suburbanization and economic decline while ambitiously rebuilding its core. Below, we compare Spofford's map from 1911 with Google Maps images from today:
The heart of Baltimore's economy, its inner harbor, is still intact. But it's been completely transformed from a congested, polluted shipping hub into a sterile but busy tourist district with national chain restaurants and stores.
A short walk west leads us to what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles decided to keep the old warehouse we see on the left, now serving as one of the most iconic stadium backdrops in baseball. But original plans for the stadium included demolishing the long, brick structure. Also remaining is the Bromo-Seltzer tower (the top, middle tower in both images). It debuted in 1911, just in time for Spofford's drawing, and remained the city's tallest until 1927.
Just north of downtown is the Washington Monument (older, shorter, and less famous than the one in Washington, D.C.). As you can tell from the aerial image, the neighborhood has retained a lot of what was already built there a century ago, giving it a well-earned historic charm.
A little further up is Baltimore's Penn Station. To the north, much of its building stock remains the same. To the immediate south, an expressway sits over what used to be Jones Falls.
Heading out east, we see the beginnings of Johns Hopkins hospital and medical center at the turn of the century, represented by the domed structure at the far right of the illustrated map. The institution has built out aggressively since then, and the surrounding Middle East neighborhood was devastated by poverty and disinvestment. In recent years, Hopkins has slowly been redeveloping the area.
Heading south, back towards downtown, we see the Jones Falls expressway curving and cutting through the city, replacing the actual Jones Falls along the same route. The highway, like so many elevated urban highways, serves as a defining barrier. To the west sits a redeveloped downtown and waterfront. A much quieter collection of surface lots, warehouses and social service facilities occupy the space to the east. Like in the 1911 drawing, Baltimore's City Hall (bottom left in both images) and the brick "Shot Tower" (center right in both images) remain.
Despite its unglamorous reputation and collection of controversial if not wholly detested planning blunders, Baltimore has been able to preserve its history better than other cities with similarly timed booms and busts. Seeing what has and hasn't changed over the last 100 years gives us a good sense of that.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Jones Falls as a canal.