Reservoir Hill's Grande Dames

December 22, 1993

The Esplanade, the Emersonian and Temple Gardens are Reservoir Hill's grande dames.

Like much of Reservoir Hill, these once-fashionable apartment buildings constructed between 1912 and 1926 are in sad shape. They have distinctive features that qualify them for the National Register of Historic Structures. But quality tenants have moved elsewhere and the buildings fell into receivership in 1991.

The city recently approved $10.2 million in loans to developer Israel Roizman, who plans to spend a total of $35.4 million to rehabilitate the three high-rises. Eighty-four apartments will be rented without subsidies at the market rate; the other 218 will be aimed a low-income tenants.

Reservoir Hill is one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, an area which is battling with blight and large-scale abandonment of row houses. The prospect of a new infusion of impoverished residents is worrying many of the middle-class families who in the past two decades bought grand Eutaw Street and Madison Avenue mansions and town houses, hoping that the area would stage a comeback.

Because of its location near Druid Hill Park, Reservoir Hill was one of the city's choice neighborhoods from the turn of the century until World War II. White flight and blockbusting then spurred a quick decline which, despite many residents' heroic efforts, still continues. Some blocks have been substantially restored but many side streets have virtually nothing but boarded-up houses. Crime and drug activity are rampant.

"We are a community facing a crisis," the Upper Eutaw-Madison Neighborhood Association wrote to Gov. William Donald Schaefer last spring, trying to stop the conversion of the three apartment towers into largely low-income complexes.

In the end, those efforts failed and Mr. Roizman emerged as the only developer who could promise a quick rehabilitation and full occupancy of the grande dames.

We urge the neighborhood to give Mr. Roizman a chance and work with him. Odds may be against his success, but he has been able to operate workable low-income complexes elsewhere. The key is good management and running a tight ship.

As work on the towers begins, the city ought to step up code enforcement throughout Reservoir Hill. A crackdown on drugs and trash would make a dramatic difference. The city also should go ahead with its plan to clean up the Whitelock Street business area through selective demolition.

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