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Birds: Swallow

One of the most beautiful fliers in my memory bank is the Barn Swallow. Part of the image I have in my mind is of the body of the swallow as it flashes those translucent tail feathers, ever-so-slightly alters direction and catches a bug in mid-flight.

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L’Hirondelle

Growing up as an elementary school child in Baltimore, our family was members of the L’Hirondelle Club in Ruxton. It was not considered a “country club,” because with only a swimming pool, bowling alleys and tennis courts, it lacked a golf course. For the real country club experience Baltimoreans went to Elkridge, Greenspring Valley, or, if you were Jewish, Suburban. It was a place for summer pool fun and winter Clubhouse brunches, to cover the monthly dues.

It is hard to imagine the club those days without a full dollop of white privilege baked into the porridge. The Clubhouse meals were white members being served by Black help. The wait staff, headed by Carol Long, a charming Black maître d’, were true professionals, not letting the racial disparity impact their treatment of the guests. Blacks were banned from membership at that time. The neighborhood surrounding the Club was Ruxton, an exclusive suburb north of Baltimore City.

In the early 1960’s for our family it was all about swimming, with some tennis on the side. We lived a quarter mile away and it was an easy walk through neighbors yards or along Ruxton Road. For me winning the boy’s intra-club Sadtler Plate was the highlight of my mid-summer swim season. Those were halcyon days – we didn’t know, what we didn’t know. We did know that the symbol for the club was the silhouette of magnificent fliers: L’Hirondelle is the French word for swallow.

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History of the Club

The original L’Hirondelle Boat Club took shape when members sailed in a Patapsco River regatta in 1872. The Club’s name was meant to capture the spirit of those early small sailboats that flew along the Chesapeake Bay like the swiftly flying birds with the long pointed wings and forked tail: the swallow. The original members of the Club were sailors, swimmers, and city-escapees, all white, who owned boats for time on the water. [1] Eighteen years later the Club moved to Ruxton.

Park & Trail Maps - Lake Roland Nature Council

Lake Roland was formed in 1861, with the damming of Roland Run at the gatehouse of the former Robert E. Lee Park. [2] The Lake provided drinking water to Baltimore’s urban core. Summer cottages sprang up around the lake, built as weekend retreats for whites seeking respite from the oppressively hot days and nights of downtown Baltimore. The cooler winds coming through the forest and off the reservoir gave fortunate families temporary relief.

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(The name of the Park around the lake was changed to Lake Roland Park in 2015, after nearly a century of unrest and racism.) [3]

In 1890 a group of oarsmen constructed a boat house on Lake Roland, and the Club fully transitioned from the banks of the Patapsco River to Ruxton. John Redwood, who served as President of the Club for 47 years, encouraged the members to embrace non-boating sporting activities, such as baseball, bowling and lacrosse, as well as various social functions and the word “boat” vanished from the name, as did the adjacent Lake Roland. The lake was never dredged and thus silted-in and returned to land.

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In 1911 L’Hirondelle’s Board raised membership fees and constructed its first clubhouse. The membership added the first swimming pool in 1928. The original boat house was replaced with the first tennis house in 1929, which supported the two clay courts and grass courts. My grandfather was on the Board in this era and remembers steering the Club away from bankruptcy during the Great Depression, which took some skillful sailing.

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With the installation of the first paddle court in the 1970’s, L’Hirondelle became one of the first clubs to offer platform tennis. The elevated courts were located over the old baseball field and new all-weather tennis courts were added.

The quality of the tennis at the time was remarkable. With top-tier tennis players like Pam Shriver, Peter Brown and Jim Shae among the L’Hirondelle membership, tennis became the primary focus of the club in the 1980’s, and it remains so to this day.

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I have to wonder how many Arthur Ashe’s never came to life, because of the systemic segregation of places like L’Hirondelle, which allowed only white members.

Arthur Ashe's legacy to live on at UCLA | UCLA

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[1]  https://www.lhirondelle.com/About_the_Club/Club_History

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Roland_(park)

In the 1917 bequest of Elizabeth Garrett White, the wife of segregationist, Robert Garrett, then commissioner of the Baltimore City Recreation Committee, the proceeds from the sale of her estate went to the erection of a monument in honor of General Robert E. Lee. In 1945, the entire park was renamed and designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial Park.

As protests escalated in 2015 with the deaths at the church in Charleston, the Baltimore City was at a crossroad. Leaving a Confederate General’s name on the park had been a “reminder of the city’s stance on race,” a “vestige of racism” or “heritage of hate.” At the same time, some historians argued that the name of “Roland Park” had “its own history as one of the most exclusive and segregated white neighborhood’s in Baltimore,” opening the name up to possible criticism in the future. The name of the park was changed to Lake Roland Park in 2015.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Roland_(park)