1928 Happenings

What was the world like in 1928 when the Lord Baltimore Hotel was built and opened?  Many aspects of that year would be familiar to those of us living in 2013, and many others would be utterly foreign.

Construction of the Lord Baltimore Hotel began in May of 1928. In June, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to successfully complete a transatlantic flight. She would later make an appearance at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

The average net income in the United States for 1928 was $6197, according to the IRS, and 511 people (or 0.13%) were millionaires (see this document for complete data: 28soirepar).

In Europe, Benito Mussolini was busy rigging Italy’s electoral system to gain more power, as described by Chris Trueman:

“Mussolini appointed members to the Fascist Grand Council and from 1928, the Grand Council had to be consulted on all constitutional issues. As Mussolini appointed people onto the Council, logic would dictate that those people would do what Mussolini wished them to do.

The electoral system was changed again in 1928. Mussolini said after the change:

“Any possibility of choice is eliminated…..I never dreamed of a chamber like yours.””

Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse film, had its premiere in 1928. According to IMDB:

“According to Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney came up with the idea of putting a soundtrack into his next Mickey Mouse cartoon after watching The Jazz Singer (1927).”

In the baseball world, Babe Ruth hit three home runs for the Yankees in the final game of the 25th World Series against the Cardinals, helping the Yankees to sweep their second consecutive Series.

Prohibition was in its ninth year by 1928, and things weren’t going so well:

“The Moderation League has continued for a fourth year its national survey of conditions under prohibition.

The police departments of 584 places have supplied their figures of arrests for intoxication for the four years 1924 to 1927; 618 departments for the 8 years 1920 to 1927; and 388 departments for the 14 years 1924 to 1927.

The most significant things disclosed by this year’s figures are:

1. In the 584 places arrests for drunkenness increased from 640,125 in 1924…to 707,104 in 1927.

2. In the 618 places arrests for drunkenness in 1927 reached 238 per cent of the figures for 1920, the first year of national prohibition, which was the lowest year for drunkenness.

3. In the 388 places reporting from 1914 to 1927 arrests for drunkenness were higher than in any previous year, save only for the war-boom peak of 1916.”

In better news, the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming was a huge, if slow to be recognized, medical breakthrough. WGBH tells the story:

“In 1928, he was straightening up a pile of Petri dishes where he had been growing bacteria, but which had been piled in the sink. He opened each one and examined it before tossing it into the cleaning solution. One made him stop and say, “That’s funny.” Some mold was growing on one of the dishes… not too unusual, but all around the mold, the staph bacteria had been killed… very unusual. He took a sample of the mold. He found that it was from the penicillium family, later specified as Penicillium notatum. Fleming presented his findings in 1929, but they raised little interest.”

And with that, we leave 1928 just as we are leaving 2013, looking back before we leap forward into the unknown on the last day of the year.

Thank you to everyone who read and shared this blog in 2013! I’m excited to share more stories with you in 2014 – Happy New Year!


Hotel Opened 85 Years Ago Today

The Lord Baltimore Hotel first opened its doors eighty-five years ago today, on December 30, 1928. This description is from the hotel archives:

“Originally commissioned in 1925 by hotel owner and businessman Harry Busick, the Lord Baltimore was designed by New York architect William Lee Stoddard. Constructed in less than eight months, the hotel opened for business on December 30, 1928 with Maryland Governor, Albert C. Ritchie being the first to sign the guest register.

… At the time it was constructed, the Lord Baltimore was the largest hotel ever built in Maryland and, except for the Fifth Regiment Armory, was the largest convention facility in Baltimore. The property was listed on the National Register in 1982.”

According to the Lord Baltimore Hotel application to the National Register:

“The hotel was opened to great fanfare on December 30, 1928, at the start of the depression. The Governor, Mayor and oldest representative of the Lord Baltimore family were in attendance, and WBAL radio broadcast the opening ceremonies.”

The hotel was constructed with the latest in modern technology, as described in a 1928 Baltimore magazine article (1928 LBH to open Dec 1):

“The new hotel will have 700 rooms, each with bath and shower. Each guest room will be equipped with radio earphones, and guests will have the choice of either of two programs that might be on the air. All the rooms are fireproof. The base trim, windows and sills are of metal and floor of concrete, which will covered with carpet directly applied to the cement….

The rooms on each guest floor will have outside exposure and open from spacious corridors heavily carpeted and having painted panelled [sic] ceilings. Each room is provided with every conceivable accessory of the finest material, and most approved design.”

The article goes on to describe some other innovations of the new hotel (1928 LBH to open Dec 1 p1 descriptions):

“On top of the building will be the laundry, a new departure in laundry location that will insure ample sunshine for drying. Above the laundry will be a tower, the first floor of which will be a service room containing telephone switchboards, carpenter shop and lockers for the laundry help. The second floor will be the fan room in which all of the fan machinery is located. The third floor contains the elevator machines and motors. The fourth floor is the tank room in which is located two 20,000 gallon tanks, and above the tank room is a mansard roof floor 40 feet in height in which will be located radio equipment, etc. Atop the tower, as heretofore stated, will be the Air Mail Beacon.”

However, Lord Baltimore Hotel patrons would have to wait another ten years before enjoying the luxury (some would say necessity) of air conditioning on their visit to Baltimore. From a July 1938 ad:

“As you read this advertisement, the immense Calvert Ballroom and its adjoining parlors will be enjoying their first refreshing draught of scientifically cooled, washed, healthful, comfortable, air conditioned atmosphere!”

Tomorrow: more about life in 1928!

Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com with your old photos, postcards, or memories of the Lord Baltimore Hotel!

Earlier Inhabitants of Baltimore, Maryland

Notable historical items on the facade of the Lord Baltimore Hotel are a couple of stone carvings, which portray the original Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, and another person, a Native American. As many people are aware, Europeans and Africans were not the earliest inhabitants of North America – so who were the people who lived in the Baltimore region before the Europeans and Africans arrived?

The area that would eventually become known as “Maryland” has been occupied by people for many thousands of years. A chronology of the state’s history by the Maryland State Archives notes:

“c. 10,000 B.C. First humans arrived by this date in the land that would become Maryland.

c. 1,500 B.C. Oysters became an important food resource.

c. 1,000 B.C. Native-American introduction of pottery.

c. 800 A.D. Native-American introduction of domesticated plants; bow and arrow came into use.

c. 1200. Permanent Native-American villages established.”

According the Maryland Historical Society, one of the three-dozen or so tribes who lived here prior to the arrival of trans-Atlantic immigrants were called the Yaocomico:

“The Native Americans in Maryland were a peaceful people who welcomed the English. At the time of the founding of the Maryland colony, approximately forty tribes consisting of 8,000 – 10,000 people lived in the area.  They were fearful of the colonists’ guns, but welcomed trade for metal tools.  The Native Americans who were living in the location where the colonists first settled were called the Yaocomico Indians. The colonists gave the Yaocomico Indians cloth, hatchets, and hoes in exchange for the right to settle on the land.  The Yaocomico Indians allowed the English settlers to live in their houses, a type of longhouse called a witchott. The Indians also taught the colonists how to plant corn, beans, and squash, as well as where to find food such as clams and oysters.”

Another one of the tribes that is often mentioned in Maryland state history is the Susquehannocks, whose reputation was a bit different than the Yaocomico. This detailed account of the tribe is from Adam Youssi, writing for the Historical Society of Baltimore County:

“The Susquehannocks were involved in numerous conflicts with other tribes.  Often, it was war with other Natives, and the potential for economic gain that prompted the Susquehannocks to interact with Europeans and acquire their manufactured goods.  The many different peoples and places with which the Susquehannocks were involved make for a complicated narrative.”

Youssi continues:

“To the far south the Susquehannocks could observe the Powhattan confederacy trading with the English near Jamestown.  The Susquehannocks were using most of northern Maryland and Baltimore County as hunting and trapping grounds but refrained from much confrontation with Powhattan.  West of territories controlled by the Susquehannocks, in the Susquehanna River valley, were the Senecas.  The Senecas found themselves in the worst position for trade.  Hunt claims that the Susquehannocks were hijacking shipments being traded between the Senecas and Europeans, leading the Senecas to war with the Susquehannocks.”

The territory where Native Americans lived eventually changed hands through both treaties and wars, and Native Americans gave way to the European immigrants. Some notable dates in this process from the the Maryland State Archives:

“1652, July 5. Susquehannocks sign treaty at Severn River, ceding Eastern Shore and Western Shore lands (except Kent Island & Palmer’s Island) to English.

1675-1677. Maryland and Virginia war against remaining Susquehannocks.

1744, June 30. Native-American chiefs of the Six Nations relinquished by treaty all claims to land in colony. Assembly purchased last Indian land claims in Maryland.”

Do you know something about the pre-European history of the Baltimore area? Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com and share your knowledge with us!

What exactly is “Art Basel”?

The Rubell family, new owners of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, are collectors who are deeply involved in the art world. Just a few weeks ago (December 5-8), the Rubells took part in a global art show called Art Basel that first began over forty years ago, in 1970:

“Art Basel stages the world’s premier art shows for Modern and contemporary works, sited in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Defined by its host city and region, each show is unique, which is reflected in its participating galleries, artworks presented, and the content of parallel programming produced in collaboration with local institutions for eachedition. In addition to ambitious stands featuring leading galleries from around the world, each show’s exhibition sectors spotlight the latest developments in the visual arts, offering visitors new ideas, new inspiration and new contacts in the art world.”


The show’s Miami Beach debut was much more recent, in 2002. From the Art Basel website’s historical overview of the event:
“2002: Art Basel debuts in Miami Beach. At the nexus of North America and Latin America, the show reflects the city’s multi-cultural identity, presenting a diversity of work from the galleries and artists of the region. It immediately establishes itself as the premier show in the Americas, and ranks among the favorite winter-time events of the international art world. Positions introduces a radical new sector, with galleries exhibiting young artists near the beach in temporarily concerted shipping containers.”
The Rubell Family Collection opened their new show called “28 Chinese” during this year’s Art Basel. In this interview, Don Rubell discusses contemporary Chinese art:
“Culture follows economy, historically. When Greeks ruled the world, you saw Greek art. When Romans ruled the world, you saw Roman art. As the West controlled the world, you saw Western art. You look at the United States, and as late as the 1960s or ‘70s it was still not a world power in art. As all of these places achieved economic power, they achieved an art power. That only partially answers your question, but it’s part of it.

The Chinese are feeling very comfortable in their own skins, in their own positions, and they are being much more aggressive in all areas. They want the best planes, they want the best highways, they want the best industries, and they’re looking to themselves for a lot of it. Again, when we first went to China, the way people showed their wealth was by wearing Western clothes. Now, there’s much more of an influence of the Chinese on the Chinese. And I think this is reflected in the fact that, before, you couldn’t have a gallery system because nobody was collecting art, so it made the galleries more likely to cater to the tourists.

Now, almost every good gallery has groups of Chinese collectors. It’s still a little bit different from the West in that you tend to have collectors who are a little more loyal to one gallery, one critic, one curator, and they don’t cross over. So when we first went there, the galleries, critics, and artists were always our main sources of information—but if you asked someone from Gallery A, he would only list his cronies. Now you get a sense that there’s a broad agreement there about who is making the most interesting work.”

Art Basel Miami Beach seems to have been a success this year, according to the Miami Herald:

“Fairs reported record attendance and strong sales during Miami’s 2013 Art Basel art week.

At namesake fair Art Basel in Miami Beach, more than 75,000 visitors attended over the fair’s five days — a 7 percent increase over the previous year. In a release issued by Art Basel’s organizers, a number of gallerists reported contact with existing and new collectors, often resulting in sales that met or exceeded expectations.”

Have a question about the Lord Baltimore Hotel or the new owners, the Rubells? Email stories@lordbaltimoreotel.com and ask!

Rubell Hotels: New Owners of Historic Baltimore Hotel, Part 2

The new owners of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, the Rubells, are deeply immersed in the art world, along with their investments in the hospitality industry. These seemingly disparate interests may not be as different as they appear to be – certainly the few select properties owned by Rubell Hotels constitute an art collection of another type.

The Rubells’ commitment to art is evident given how active they are in the art world. In addition to having their own museum to showcase their private art collection, the Rubells are also known for their support of artists of all levels. Mera Rubell spent some time with some Baltimore artists in October, as reported in Bmore Art:

“Over 150 artists entered the lottery to have the opportunity to have Mera Rubell visit their studio and these are a few of the lucky 36 selected. Ms. Rubell and Ms. Gold, Director of the WPA, were joined at points throughout their tour with notable arts professionals from local museums and galleries as well as members of the press from Baltimore and Washington, DC….

Ms. Rubell will be conducting the studio visits in her role as a curator for SELECT 2014, Washington Project for the Arts’ 33rd annual art auction exhibition, taking place at Artisphere in Rosslyn, VA from February 27 through March 21, 2014.”

A 2010 video interview with Mera and her husband Don about their art collection can be found here. Some background on the collection:

“The Rubell Family Collection (RFC) was started in New York in 1964 when Don and Mera Rubell were first married. Since 1993 it has been displayed in Miami at its current, 45’000 square-foot location, and it first opened to the public in 1994. Since then, the Rubell Family Collection has been recognized as the pioneer of what is often referred to as the “Miami model,” whereby private collectors create a new, independent form of public institution.”

And in a more recent interview, Don discussed their new exhibit that just opened in Miami. Andrew M. Goldstein of Artspace writes:

“Now, the Rubells are poised to reaffirm their own influence with a new show—this time focusing on the younger generation of artists who are working in China.

Opening during this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach week, “28 Chinese” is the latest in a distinguished lineage of shows that have broadcast the latest developments in Chinese contemporary art to Western eyes, going back to the Asia Society‘s “Inside Out: New Chinese Art” show in 1998—which made a star of Zhang Huan and other artists—and Harald Szeemann‘s 1999 Venice Biennale, which featured 20 Chinese artist, including that year’s Golden Lion winner, Cai Guo Qiang. Now, however, with China’s own collecting class on the rise and its artists evolving in new directions, Western buyers are beginning to look past the famous names searching for rising talent—a hunt made all the more challenging by the geographic, political, and cultural gulfs in play.

With the new show, the Rubells have done a remarkable service for their fellow collectors (as well as artist, critics, and curators), gathering together work by artists they discovered in the course of multiple journeys through China’s disparate art scenes including scores of studio visits.”

Have you stayed at the Lord Baltimore or at one of the Rubells’ other hotels? Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com and tell us all about it!

December 5, 2013: 80th Anniversary of Repeal Day

Today marks 80 years since the end of Prohibition on December 5, 1933. From yesterday’s Baltimore Sun:

“More than 90 years ago, the United States Congress ratified the 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol in the United States. As a result of the temperance movement, Prohibition effectively banned states from allowing the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol in a safe and legal manner.

True to “The Free State” philosophy, Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law enforcing Prohibition. Legislators saw the law as a violation of Maryland’s rights as a state. We like to think our state government was ahead of the curve. They knew that Prohibition was not the right answer.

However, despite Maryland’s protest, federal law ruled. From 1920 to 1933, national Prohibition resulted in increased organized crime, widespread alcohol abuse, the production of illegal and unsafe alcohol and decreased respect for the rule of law.”

The Lord Baltimore Hotel had opened almost five years prior to Repeal Day, on December 28, 1928, and it included a speakeasy, uncovered during the current renovations:

“[General Manager Gene-Michael] Addis made a startling discovery: a room in the southwestern corner of the building that had originally been a speakeasy during Prohibition.

“We’re putting it back and we’re going to call it Speakeasy,” he said.”

A Washington Post blog from a couple of years ago noted about the paper’s coverage of Repeal Day:

“As is our custom here at BlogPost, we flipped through the archives of our paper’s Dec. 5, 1933, edition to see what our forebears had to report. A ProQuest query returned 23 stories for that day that included the word “repeal.” Some stories talked about efforts from the “drys” to challenge the repeal in court. There was speculation of what level of taxing state and federal governments might levy on the newly legal suds. One piece reported on the 2 million gallons of alcohol sitting in storage in Baltimore and how no one knew how they might be distributed up until the last second.”

And due to a legal quirk noted by WETA’s blog, Baltimore residents could drink immediately after Prohibition’s repeal while D.C. residents could not:

“Sadly for District residents alcohol sales in the nation’s capital wouldn’t resume until March 1, 1934 — three months later! — delayed while Congress developed alcohol tax and regulation policies for the city. In a way, they delay was fitting. Because of the D.C.’s colony-like relationship with the federal government, the District had always operated by a different set of rules with regard to Prohibition.”

Finally, here’s the New York Times coverage from 12/5/33:

“Legal liquor today was returned to the United States, with President Roosevelt calling on the people to see that “this return of individual freedom shall not be accompanied by the repugnant conditions that obtained prior to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment and those that have existed since its adoption.”

Prohibition of alcoholic beverages as a national policy ended at 5:321/2 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, when Utah, the last of the thirty-six States furnished by vote of its convention the constitutional majority for ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment. The new amendment repealed the Eighteenth, and with the demise of the latter went the Volstead Act which for more than a decade held legal drinks in America to less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol and the enforcement of which cost more than 150 lives and billions in money.”

Happy Repeal Day!