The first plate-glass window was smashed around 5:30 p.m. at the Fashion Hat Shop in the 400 block of N. Gay Street. Half an hour later, roving bands of black teens, itching for more action, looted their first business, Sun Cleaners, at Gay and Monument streets, spiriting away clothes wrapped in plastic bags.
At 6:15 p.m., they set their first fire, torching the Ideal Furniture Company in the 700 block of Gay Street. Alerted to the growing unrest, city cops, on- and off-duty, surged into Baltimore’s modest East Side shopping district, setting up headquarters at the nearby Belair Market.
While one plainclothes officer characterized the scene as “pretty festive” at 7 p.m., the situation quickly turned malicious, as store after store in the vicinity—groceries, appliance shops, furniture outlets, dry cleaners, five-and-dimes, tailors, taverns, liquor stores, pawn brokers—was broken into and ransacked.