The Grand Dame of East 34th Street
Whether in the pool or in her cups, Mary Bond’s life is full
Published: June 5, 2013
The House of Dead Baltimore Artists sits cater-corner from the beleaguered Stadium Lounge on East 34th Street in the village of Waverly. There, inside a corner rowhouse, is a collection of art born of barrooms that no longer exist.
Chief cook and curator is Mary Bond, a retired public school art teacher who befriended the artists, loved them, and outlived most of them.
“I was never one of the producing artists,” she says of the creative people who colored her life. “I supported them.”
A native of Keeseville, N.Y., in the Adirondacks, Bond first arrived in Baltimore as an adolescent when her father—Neil Walker Bond, an Army civil engineer—was stationed in Aberdeen. The family lived on Wilsby Avenue off of Argonne Drive.
How long ago?
It can be measured by the profound changes that have come to pass in Bond’s adopted hometown.
“When I went to public school in Baltimore, [its system] was the standard for excellence in the United States,” she said.
Mary Jane Bond is 79 and has enjoyed a long life of good friendships and many a Crabtown barstool.
Most dear was Martick’s on Mulberry, where she was served by the fabled starlet Maelcum Soul; at No Fish Today—its Eutaw Street digs destroyed by still-unsolved arson—the art was painted in blue notes via trumpet and guitar; the food and conversation was always good at Bertha’s (Bond has a drawing of a snail by the Fells Point restaurant’s first cook, Bill Arnott); and when Bond lived in Midtown, her longtime neighborhood joint was Tyson Place, which fronted (but did not survive) legendary gay bar Leon’s.
Whatever the watering hole—dives and divas from Thames Street to Reservoir Hill—Mary had a soft spot (and an understanding of what it takes to make something beautiful) for artists in need of a meal, a drink, a sympathetic ear, and, most importantly, a sale.
Which is how she came to own a dozen iconic works by John Kefover (pears and spring onions, a harlequin offering a bouquet to a sad and bare-breasted woman); a half-dozen by Glenn Walker (the most talented of them all, she believes); a collage by Charlie Palmer, whom she believes used to dress windows at the Pratt Library headquarters on Cathedral Street; a couple of pieces by her dear friend Billy Hadaway, whom she found dead when he didn’t call like he always did; a handful by Charlie Newton, who painted the mural of the history of Ireland at the Cat’s Eye Pub on Thames Street; and a few commissions of Bond relatives by Jim Joyner, also formerly of Martick’s.
“Just about everybody I knew from Martick’s is dead. The rest are popping off pretty regularly now,” says Bond. “It’s hard to keep up with who is left.”
The names don’t mean much outside of Baltimore (even here, recognition fades), but they’re important to people who do know, those who make true the notion that as long as there’s one person who remembers, the dead have life.
Mary remembers. In her basement are journals dating back 25 years, from Baltimore’s ’80s—when newspapermen drank side-by-side with sculptors and poets, and MICA was still known as “the Institute.” Through the years she began clipping obituaries.
The diaries recount adventures with an old beau named Clem Florio, the late News-American racetrack handicapper and the closest thing to Damon Runyon Baltimore will ever know.
(Asked if Florio was the love of her life, Mary smiles and says kindly, “No, but he was a nice guy.”)
The memories molder near boxes of Billy Hadaway’s personal belongings, all of the Lovegrove Alley jeweler’s earthly possessions bequeathed upon his March 2000 death to his dear friend, Mary Bond.
As S.E. Hinton famously wrote, that was then, this is now.
For Mary Bond, now is not so much about watercolors but water aerobics. One of the best things to happen to Waverly, she says, is the opening of a YMCA on the hallowed grounds along 33rd Street, where Memorial Stadium once stood.
At the Y, she fell in with a group of women about her age—“active older adults”—most of them African-Americans living nearby.
“A whole new group of friends,” says Bond, women with stories of courage, heartache, and faith to match anything she ever heard in a gin mill.
Though Friday night often finds Mary at her current haunt, the Canton Liquor House on Fleet Street, most mornings she’s in the pool, not her cups.
“I don’t know why, but I really do love Baltimore,” she said of her long decades in the city. “I have to constantly stand up for it, and that annoys me. But the people are great here, they’re passionate.”
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