As the author of this forth-coming book on Baltimore’s Road Wars, I would like to offer a tribute to Julian “Jack” Lapides, who passed away last week. Jacques Kelly’s fine Baltimore Sun obituary was a great remembrance of one of the most highly principled elected officials of our time. Kelly mentions the road fight, but there is more to that story.
Senator Lapides was a board member of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, going all the way back to 1969; he also served as the Society’s General Counsel through the 1970’s.
You could say that Jack Lapides was to the Maryland General Assembly as Barbara Mikulski was to the Baltimore City Council: the leader of the highway opposition faction. He carried the anti-expressway message to the State, lending credibility to the road fighters.
Similar to Mikulski’s resistance in City Council, Lapides’ record on anti-highway measures mostly failed. The unsuccessful attempts included his opposition to a 1971 state financing measure (allowing the City to borrow against State bonding authority), as well as Lapides’ 1974 bid to have the expressway plan put on the ballot. But the odd thing, really the common thread of the entire battle over the expressways, is that the opponents lost most of the battles, yet won the war.
Lapides’ unsuccessful measures were part of a cascade of relentless criticism, such that Mayor William Donald Schaefer and highway proponents had to play defense, while expending political chits at every turn. Meanwhile public support for the expressways ebbed away.
Lapides was responsible for at least one clear and shocking “win.” Here is a short excerpt from my forth-coming book:
“In 1974 the Preservation Society also staged a coup in the Maryland General Assembly. Geoff Mitchell [the Preservation Society’s attorney for the lawsuit against the expressway]recommended, and the Society moved ahead with a strategy of targeted acquisitions. Astonishingly, they were able to get a bill through the Maryland General Assembly to fund acquisitions of three historic properties, all lying inside the condemnation lines [emphasis added].
This was engineered by Julian “Jack” Lapides, a Preservation Society board member. As Mitchell explained in a 2018 interview, “Lapides was a State Senator [chairing a key committee], and Jack’s vote was needed by a lot of people on a lot of things. So, we got the Maryland Historic Trust to sponsor a bill and it was enacted. We got a $127,000 to purchase these three houses.” Mitchell added that the Bill was “not popular” with either the City or the State. One of the properties acquired with the State funds was the Robert Long House, built in 1765 and reputed to be the oldest surviving urban house in Baltimore. The house at 812 South Ann Street (right in the middle of the condemnation area) was purchased by the Preservation Society in 1975 and restored over the next decade.
This action must have been quite an embarrassment to the Schaefer Administration, as well as the State Department of Transportation: the State appeared to be working at cross-purposes with itself.”
Lapides Road Wars resume is also revealed from within the records of the Preservation Society—Lapides helped strengthen the resolve of the group to stay the course. There were quite a few instances where the Preservation Society was faced with a choice between a sure-thing compromise and a risky no-road/no-compromise stance. Senator Lapides was solidly and consistently in the “no compromise” camp, which eventually turned out to be the right call, very much on the right side of history.
The history of the Robert Long House, featuring Road Wars hero, Bob Eney. Credit Tonal Vision, Fells Point Out of Time Living History project. See the YouTube playlist.
Photo credit: Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia.–