The Chesapeake Restaurant’s owner, Norman Friedman, surveys the burned room that once held Babe Ruth memorabilia. (Weyman Swagger, Baltimore Sun file photo, 1974)

The original Chesapeake Restaurant was a Baltimore dining institution for more than 50 years until it closed in the late 1980s.

The restaurant never fully recovered from a Preakness-eve fire on May 18, 1974, that left the first floor — including the kitchen, bar and Chesapeake Room — virtually unscathed but caused considerable damage to the Chesapeake’s second-floor dining areas, including the Babe Ruth Room.

"It has not been a very good year for Babe Ruth," wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Ken Nigro.

"First, the Babe’s monument in Yankee Stadium was uprooted while the old ballpark in New York underwent a massive renovation. Then along came Henry Aaron to shatter the magic 714 home run mark.
And three weeks ago there came the cruelest blow — the Babe Ruth Room at the Chesapeake Restaurant was completely destroyed by fire.”
Photographs, bats, balls and even one of Ruth’s uniform caps were lost in the fire. One of the few things left standing, Nigro reported, was the brick wall by the stairs leading to the Babe Ruth Room. The wall had been built with bricks from the old St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys that Ruth had attended.

“That’s how we got the idea for the room in the first place,” Chesapeake owner Norman Friedman told the Baltimore Sun.

"One of the workmen told us about the bricks and he thought it would be a good idea if we did something in the baseball vein. We checked around and saw there wasn’t a thing in town that immortalized the Babe. We really got excited about the idea and designed the room around Ruth."


The fire at the Chesapeake Restaurant, 1700 block North Charles Street, went to five alarms. (Clarence B. Garrett, Baltimore Sun file photo, 1974)

Friedman spoke of rebuilding the collection but realized it would be an uphill battle.

"The Babe Ruth Museum will probably get first crack at everything," Friedman said.

Then in the final phases of construction, Babe Ruth’s birthplace was about six weeks away from its opening as a public museum.