Farewell to the Hunt Valley Inn

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In 1981, I was invited by my pal Howard Weinstein to join him at a Maryland-based show called Shore Leave. I drove down to the Hunt Valley Inn in Cockeysville, and it was so wonderful I have been coming back steadily ever since.

Today, the hotel, part of the Marriott chain, closes. I have no clue why it has struggled over the years, but for our world, it’s a keen loss. Not only has it hosted Shore Leave and Farpoint, but over the years, it has been the home to Monster Mania, Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, and Balticon.

Early in our time there, it was a training hotel, so new employees learned the ropes there and moved on. As a result, the con crew learned the hotel’s nooks and crannies, and its peculiarities, with George Laurence of Conventional Light & Magic actually creating blueprints for the ballroom and programming rooms, indicating every outlet and data port, things the hotel staff lacked and asked for copies.

One of the two programming halls, now eerily empty and sad.

We endured watching it age and get refurbished more than once, leading to the occasional inconvenience while staying over or cries of outrage when their décor choices were an offense to our senses (regulars know which carpet we speak of).

But it’s where memories were made, along with long-standing, deep friendships. Howie and I seemed to blaze a trail so over the years, more and more authors were welcomed, and it then became known as a con that celebrated the written word. My world expanded exponentially as a result.

Imagine a grand piano in the foreground. This is where Katie, Robbie, and their peers would congregate late into the evening.

The hotel is where Katie and Robbie grew up, both calling it their “home away from home”, getting excited as we transitioned from 695 to 83 North. They also made friends there, and as Robbie grew, a gaggle of giggling girls followed in his wake. Kate did a few years of costumes; her life-size Barbie in the pink packaging was particularly memorable. They found a corner of the Lower Lobby, near the read elevators, that became their late-night spot, where card games and who knows what else occurred there.  

When he was three, Robbie announced at breakfast, he knew his way back to the room. Now, the hotel has a labyrinthian layout (not as bad as the Rye Hilton, but close), so we nodded and agreed to keep him happy. We paused on the way out to say good morning to someone, and the next thing we knew, he was missing. Given the easy access to the nearby pool or the front doors to the roadway, we panicked. As Deb and the staff checked the public spaces, I finally made my way back to the room, and sure enough, he proved his point and was being escorted back by one of the cleaning staff.

They packed the Tack Room and spilled into the hallways, the lobby, and outdoors.

On Saturday, those available to attend reunited in the Tack Room, the one programming room available, for a day of celebrating the hotel and commiserating at the passing of an institution. Things started with a Bob & Howie Show, and then an assortment of committee members took the dais to give us some behind-the-scenes tales of the hotel. Later, there was a fan-led discussion and a trivia contest before linguist Marc Okrand closed out the evening with his memories.

Neil Ottenstein caught me and Howie at our most casual during one final panel at the hotel.

I was delighted to see friends and fans, including more than a few who hadn’t been at the show in years but hadn’t been by in a while, so it was good to catch up. Someone who helped run the first two shows in the 80s made a point of being present.

The committees from Shore Leave and Farpoint made a presentation to the management on hand, including one woman who had worked with the shows for the last sixteen years. They were given Shore Leave bunnies, swag from the cons, and certificates of appreciation signed by an assortment of us. They joined us for cutting and devouring a sheet cake, and then they went back to work, more than a few in tears.

We gathered outside for one group shot before the hotel, a nice keepsake.

And now we turn our attention to the future. Farpoint is relocating to the DoubleTree in nearby Pikesville, while Shore Leave is about to sign a contract and then tell us when and where to report in July.

New memories will be made, but it won’t be the same. It can’t be because my family and career are inextricably tied to the hotel. For those with long tenures, it just can never have the same feel.

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