November 3, 2015 / Love Letters

Love Letters: Patterson Park Pagoda

Image courtesy sneakerdog (Flickr)

Image courtesy sneakerdog (Flickr)

Dear Observatory,

I remember the first time I saw you. It was a summer day in 2010. I had just come to Baltimore and I was still trying to take it all in, and then, through the trees I saw you. You reminded me more of my time in South Korea than anything I’d seen in the States. Whenever I asked about you, people seemed to have no idea as to your purpose or origin, or if it was even permitted to enter. Your towering 60 feet of steel, wood, and glass were like a beacon on top of the Patterson Hill. It would be 3 years before I would stand on your cantilevered deck and admire the view from your 4th floor.

I remember there was a festival in Patterson Park that day. I happened to be passing by stealing my usual glance and wondering what mysteries lie inside. I only just noticed the group of people standing about, admiring the rock garden and (I couldn’t believe it) going inside of you! Giving in to my curiosity, I quickly entrenched myself within the group, and what I discovered surprised me. Though you were called the ‘Pagoda,’ your design was not necessarily inspired by the aesthetic of Southeast Asia, but rather that of the bold Victorian era. Even more, the version of you that stood before me was one that had endured a great amount of duress.

Facing not only vandalism and deterioration, you were very nearly reduced to a pile of rubble in a proposed demolition, nearly 17 years ago. Lo and behold, you were saved from the wrecking ball by the Friends of Patterson Park. As it turned out, you had more friends than enemies. And why not? The day that I ascended your spiral staircase colored in seafoam blue, maroon, and polished bronze, I could feel the hand of Latrobe on every side of your eight walls. Looking through your center, the symmetrical edges and purple highlights gave the sense that I was looking down into something that was alive.

It was only by visiting throughout the seasons that the beauty of your design became whole. Like the elegant branches of a leafless tree, you stand firm in the winter ornamented with snowflakes. And in the spring? The pink and white of the cherry blossoms reflect in your arched windows, which rise from your stone dais. Is it just me, or does my coffee taste richer in your summer shade? I may have forgotten, because you may be the most lovely in the fall, your colors blending into the brilliant oranges, reds, and browns of the season.

A future docent, and forever a friend, my last night in Baltimore will surely be spent under your brilliant lights, as we both become golden against the dark sky.


Terrence Pope

Help us continue the Love Letters to Baltimore Buildings series by submitting your own today! Visit for more details.