203 E. Pratt St., 410/332-4191,
HOURS: Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
It’s difficult to imagine now, but the land occupied by Harborplace was, in the early 1960s, covered with huge, semi-rotting piers and abandoned industrial and warehouse space. No one came down to the harbor; in fact, people avoided it like the plague, because it was ugly and occupied by a variety of unsavory characters, many of whom, in fact, might have carried the plague.
The real estate around the harbor was similarly undesirable, and in the 1970s, the city actually sold dilapidated houses in the Otterbein neighborhood (in between Oriole Park and Federal Hill) for $1 if people promised to fix them up; houses in Otterbein now regularly sell for $450,000. Short version: Things looked bad.
But city political and business leaders took a chance, and it paid off. Beginning with the nearby Charles Center project, and then moving to the waterfront, the city gambled millions of dollars—and hired some of the nation’s most visionary urban planners—to give Baltimore  an anchor on which it could try to avoid complete collapse.
The pavilions of Harborplace, along with the National Aquarium and the World Trade Center (that pentagonal building), were the original occupants of the Inner Harbor, and they had the waterfront to themselves for a while. Interestingly, Harborplace was originally built to give the citizens of Baltimore  a new, modern, picturesque location to meet, hang out, and enjoy the city’s waterfront. Perhaps ironically, the area instead became a tourist draw, and is now the city’s most popular destination, drawing millions of visitors a year to the wide variety of attractions along the reclaimed waterfront.