Empty Memorial Stadium a haunting presence

MAJOR LEAGUE NEIGHBORS

July 19, 1992|By Alyssa Gabbay | Alyssa Gabbay,Contributing Writer

On a humid night at an overgrown baseball field in Waverly, a couple of kids are thinking about starting up a game. Christopher Ayestas, 13, throws a softball in the air and swings at it with a silver bat. A few of his friends run to field it.

But a few minutes into the game, interest flags, and the kids scatter.

With Memorial Stadium now little more than a hulking shell, that is as much baseball activity as Waverly and other nearby neighborhoods see on game days. Residents miss the old days.

"It was neat when the crowd was walking around, the lights were on, and there was a kind of festival feeling in the air," says Brian Hannon, president of the Ednor Gardens/Lakeside Civic Association. "Now, on game nights, it's just sort of real quiet, and there's sort of this ominous kind of feel in the air."

"After so many years of it, this time of year, you expect to have the games here," agrees Wallace Beal, a retired steelworker and Waverly resident. "Now it's relatively quiet around here."

Rather than frequently attending games on a senior citizen's discount, Mr. Beal now spends his summer evenings playing with his grandchildren or taking a stroll through his neighborhood. "Going to games was an outlet for me, it gave me something to do when the sun went down," Mr. Beal says. "I think everyone in the neighborhood misses [the stadium]."

The loss of the stadium is depriving some residents of work as well as entertainment. Kids who once found summer jobs at the stadium are now looking elsewhere for employment. Christopher Ayestas used to distribute free gloves and posters on giveaway nights.

Now, he hopes to help out in his brother-in-law's landscaping business.

Some residents of Ednor Gardens, the middle class, tree-lined neighborhood that lies north of the stadium, have also seen a few signs of deterioration as a result of the Orioles' flight downtown.

When games were still played at 33rd Street, crews would clean up trash immediately. But litter from flea markets held on the stadium's parking lot often remains there for days, according to Dr. Glenn Gilmor, a physician who has lived in Ednor Gardens for five years. "There's been a little more neglect than there used to be."

On the other hand, crime has not intensified, says Dr. Gilmor. "There are a lot of petty crimes around here, like vandalism, but usually nothing worse."

And these days, residents don't have to worry about driving all over their neighborhoods to find parking spaces on game nights. "It's kind of nice to know that if you're having a dinner party, your guests will be able to park in front of your house," he says.

Residents of both Waverly and Ednor Gardens say that losing the stadium has not hurt real estate activity in their neighborhoods. Mr. Hannon notes that homes in hismiddle-class residential neighborhood are selling more slowly than in stadium days. But he blames that on the soft market, rather than the loss of the baseball games.

Mr. Hannon, a real estate agent with the Roland Park office of Prudential Preferred Properties, says, "The people who were attracted to the stadium and moved here because of it are still finding other reasons to keep them here," such as the neighborhood's mature trees and friendly atmosphere.

Statistics from the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors indicate that home prices have dropped and that fewer homes are selling in Ednor Gardens and Waverly.

In the first half of 1992, 19 homes sold in Ednor Gardens -- eight fewer than the same period last year. The average sale price sank from $74,877 to $71,892, and the average list price also fell, from $77,334 to $75,294.

In Waverly, 26 units sold during the first half of 1992, five fewer than the same period last year. The average sale price was $38,430, about $2,000 less than in 1991, and the average list price dropped by about $1,000.

Some residents claim that those figures reflect the general condition of Baltimore real estate. "Things are selling for somewhat less all over the city," said Barbara Blom, a real estate agent with the Towson South office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn who lives in Waverly. "All homes are taking longer to sell, and are selling for less than usual."

Today, many residents are focusing attention on plans to convert the stadium site. A mixed-use development of office and residential buildings as well as parks is likely, according to the Baltimore Development Corp., which is handling the redevelopment project.

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