Bye bye, “vinegar tank”!

Not the source of the smell it became widely known for, the BGE gas storage facility bites the dust.

vinegar 2

With the Easter Bunny waving farewell, the tank fell in seconds.

Photo by: Fern Shen (from the 41st Street Bridge)

The big gray polygonal tank stood for 79 years in the Jones Falls Valley, exuding the smelly-sock smell of vinegar – or so people mistakenly thought – and serving as a North Baltimore landmark on the west side of I-83, near the Cold Spring Lane intersection.

It only took a couple of seconds for the Melvale gas holder to come down with a BOOM-BOOM today.

First, charges circling the tank flashed orange. Then a puff of smoke blasted upwards. Then the whole thing toppled like a blown-over house of cards, falling away from Jones Falls Expressway, just as the demolition company intended.

We know what they intended because we had the good fortune to find ourselves standing on the 41st Street Bridge with a friendly employee from Controlled Demolition, Inc., the Phoenix, Md.-based company in charge of knocking down the former home heating gas tank for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

A CDI employee and his fiancee observing the demolition from the 41st Street Bridge over the JFX.

Not a Vinegar Tank

We chatted with him and stood with a crowd that ultimately swelled to about 50 people, come to watch the Sunday morning implosion of “the vinegar tank.”

(In fact, a vinegar factory, on the other side of the JFX, has been the source of that vinegar odor – and decades of confusion over what smells were coming from where.)

They’d been working on the implosion for weeks, he said, pointing out the holes to the left of the ladder where some of the 400 explosive charges had been positioned.

Riding over on bikes, pushing strollers, gripping cameras and travel mugs, spectators waited for an explosion that was reportedly scheduled for 7 a.m., but took place closer to 7:30 a.m.

Countdown to Collapse

Part of the reason for the slight delay was the early morning cloud cover, which would trap the sound and make it seem louder, we were told. But along with waiting for the haze to lift, the demolition crew of about a dozen also had their hands full keeping curious people with cameras from getting too close to the blast.

“We got two people behind Dopkin [a plumbing supply company]. They won’t leave,” someone could be heard saying on the walkie-talkie. Another person responded: “Do you want me to get the police over there?”

“I got somebody on the roof of Poly that wants to take pictures from there,” someone else reported.

There was also a lot of discussion that appeared to be about somebody from City Paper who had set up a remote camera inside the area considered unsafe, which they hoped to be able to trigger with an 85-foot cord.

Spectators were poised but even so, it happened so fast, some photographers nearly missed it. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Spectators were poised but even so, it happened so fast, some photographers nearly missed it. (Photo by Fern Shen)

When all was clear they started the safety cameras rolling and counted down: “10, 9, 8, 7 . . .”

Doomed by Technology

Why did the 258-foot-tall tank have to come down?

Like so much of Baltimore’s industrial past, it was doomed by the advance of technology.

There are apparently more efficient ways to store gas now and it was costly to maintain the structure.

BGE said the tank hasn’t been used since 1997.

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  • Chris

    Obviously, such demolitions are dangerous and should be banned before anyone is killed.

  • bmorepanic

    I hope the city got their pound of flesh from them – both for the labor involved in closing the roads, security, for causing all the disruption and for the delightful new coat of lead paint dust.  I wonder how far the dust travels.

  • Gerald Neily

    Not coincidentally, there’s also a development plan for the area. There darn well should be – this is one of the best and most strategically located sites in all of Baltimore. It is a tribute to the city’s love/hate relationship with “transit-oriented development” that this is still vacant over 20 years after the light rail line opened, with Poly students and #33 bus transferees still having to descend down into a steep desolate canyon from the I-83/Cold Spring Lane interchange. The way the massive BGE tank was engulfed by its lush surroundings demonstrated how extremely high density development could be accommodated here with ease, if anyone wanted to build it. Meanwhile across the street, the city still maintains its “stump dump”, which obstructs what should be a fantastic gateway to Cylburn Park. Here’s what I wrote about all this back in 2008:

  • Rocky_Ground

    Great photo; love the bunny’s sad farewell!

  • Teresa

    Love the bye-bye bunny in the photo

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