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Icon Or Eyesore? The Retirement Of The Essex Cube Splits The Community

The Essex Cube. Credit: John Lee
The Essex Cube. Credit: John Lee

For more than 40 years, a six by six-foot cube has been the symbol of Essex in Baltimore County. Now, there are are plans to replace the Essex Cube.

And that has ignited a debate between those who say the piece of art is a part of daily life and should stay, and others who counter the cube no longer symbolizes what Essex is about.

“It’s ugly, isn’t it?” asked County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. “It’s been around forever.”

Since 1979, to be exact. When it was new, Bevins remembers making the trip from her home in Colgate a couple of miles away just to see it.

“Some people thought it was cool, some people thought it was obnoxious.”

Much like the 70s themselves.

The cube brings to mind the decade that brought us Saturday Night Live, Watergate, gas lines and yes, Rubik’s Cube. If you haven’t seen it, it’s red, has Essex written on it, is tilted, and lights up at night.

At the Essex Diner, which is a stone’s throw from the cube, everyone wants the cube to stay. The owner, Greg Haman, is particularly irked about it going.

“Why, why? It’s a statue. It’s not bothering nobody,” Haman said.

When he bought the diner in 2006, his business partner wanted to keep its old name. Haman wanted to change it.

“He said ‘what are you going to name it?’ I said look there, the cube. Essex. Essex Diner.”

But the cube is not a good symbol for Essex anymore, according to those who want to replace it.

Traffic whizzes by the cube, which marks the entrance to the Eastern Baltimore County community just across the Back River on Eastern Boulevard.

Lisa Harlow, the president of the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River, said the local chamber of commerce has decided to bench the cube.

“I think it was meant to be a beacon to introduce people to Essex as you drive along Eastern Boulevard,” Harlow said. “It’s seen better days. It’s got bullet holes in it.”

No one knows who thought up the cube, according to Paul M. Blitz, the historian for the Heritage Society.

“It was an innovative idea at the time,” Blitz said. “No one quite knows why a cube was decided. And unfortunately, those people who were part of this are no longer with us.”

The Essex Cube was made by Belsinger Sign Works in Baltimore.

“Unfortunately, everyone that had anything to do with that has long since passed away,” said Wayne Belsinger, one of the company’s owners. “It’s really amazing that it withstood the test of time and possible vandals and anything else that could have happened to it over the years.”

The chamber held a competition for artists to submit proposals for a new sculpture. A committee will choose the cube’s replacement from those entries. It will be four panels with depictions of Essex’s past, present and its waterfront along Back River, Middle River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Essex, said the cube isn’t telling that story.

Crandell said, “That’s the impetus of changing out the cube into something more modern and something that exemplifies what the community is all about.”

He said he attended a community meeting where everyone raised their hand when asked if they wanted the cube replaced.

But on the other hand, there is an online petition with more than 750 signatures calling for the Essex Cube to stay put.

To try to keep the peace in Essex, the Heritage Society wants to move the cube to its museum. It must get the county’s approval for that since it owns the building.

Back at the Essex Diner, Yvonne Rivers doesn’t see the point of doing that.

“To take it and move it and put something else, no, I really don’t think it’s necessary.”

And what’s to become of Cubie, a cartoon character that is the official symbol of the annual Essex Day Festival?

“Even if the cube gets moved, we’re definitely still going to continue that character,” said Lisa Harlow with the Heritage Society.

The cube will be on its perch for at least one more Essex Day Festival, which is coming up September 18.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2