Oriole Park hits homer with historical houses

April 03, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

As the Orioles retake the field this week, we wanted to look at some of the neighborhoods surrounding Oriole Park: Ridgely's Delight today, and Otterbein next Sunday.

When Oriole Park at Camden Yards opens tomorrow, Bill Reuter wants to be first in line. He has season tickets and plans to attend every game.

"It's a beautiful stadium. And there is so much excitement around Opening Day. The crowds of people who come, the way they cheer the team, I can't wait," says Mr. Reuter, 39.

There are thousands of fans as enthusiastic. But Mr. Reuter is different: He was one of the stadium's bitterest opponents.

"When I heard about the stadium back around 1989, I expected nothing but trouble," he says.

Mr. Reuter and his wife Sharon, 38, live in Ridgely's Delight, about a block from the stadium.

The Reuters, who purchased their three-story brick rowhouse in 1986, chose the neighborhood because they could walk to the Inner Harbor and drive less than a block to Interstate 95.

And he said he liked the variety of homes, most of which have brick fronts. Some houses, built in the 1830s for well-to-do merchants and their families, may have 6,000 square feet of space. On side streets, some of which retain their original cobblestone, are homes as small as 500 square feet -- built to house slaves, freed blacks and working-class families.

The stadium, built with brick and incorporating the old Camden Yards warehouse, fits in with the neighborhood, Mr. Reuter says. And he says the city lavishes more services on the neighborhood so it will look nice to the fans and tourists who go to the stadium.

"The hokey man started coming out in mid-March to sweep the streets and pick up trash. The city sends them out before and after the games," Mr. Reuter noted.

Other neighbors, like Steve Hegg and Art Parks, agree that the 48,000-seat stadium has been good for the neighborhood.

"It has stabilized the neighborhood and given us an identity; before no one knew where Ridgely's Delight was," Mr. Hegg, 36, says.

Mr. Hegg now hopes the state goes through with plans to build a football stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Mr. Hegg, who bought his home in Ridgely's Delight while the stadium was being constructed, says baseball was one of the reasons he bought his 2 1/2 -story home. But mostly, he says, he liked the house because he could walk to the MARC train station at Camden Yards and take the Metroliner to his engineering job in Washington.

Mr. Hegg says his biggest worry is traffic. But that hasn't been a problem because the city erects signs directing cars away from Ridgely's Delight. And he says the stadium traffic clears out in about 25 minutes.

And Mr. Parks' biggest fear -- that parking spaces would be gobbled up by sports fans -- has not materialized.

"Parking is easier during a game because the city sends in tow trucks that start towing cars away the moment the game begins. I've watched them tow a dozen cars on one night," he says. Vehicles must display a community parking permit.

Parking was one of the neighborhood's biggest concerns because most of the homes were built about 150 years ago and, since there weren't any cars then, there weren't any garages, parking pads or driveways, Mr. Parks says.

In the 1890s the few yards that existed began to disappear as Victorian families "modernized" their homes by adding rooms to make space for bathrooms and other amenities.

Ineka Rawie, 50, says she bought her home in 1979 because it is unique. Ms. Rawie, who declined to say how much she paid for her home, said she spent the first five years making the house "habitable" by tearing out most of the house and installing a kitchen and bathroom. She says it took another five years to finish the home, uncovering the marble fireplaces, adding a powder room and laying hardwood floors.

And after spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours rebuilding her home, Ms. Rawie worried that the neighborhood would turn back into a slum because the stadium would be so loud, so bright and so busy that homeowners would flee. That hasn't happened, she says.

"When I moved here, most of the homes were boarded-up and the others were owned by slum landlords who had converted the buildings into cheap rooming houses," she says.

Ridgely's Delight, which takes its name from a country estate built in the 1700s, became part of Baltimore City's revitalization program in the mid-1970s. Some vacant houses were sold for $1 to young professionals. Other homes, also abandoned, were sold for $10,000 to $20,000.

Urban pioneers, such as Ms. Rawie, had to follow strict historic guidelines for the exteriors. Paint, doors, windows and even brick had to conform to what would have been used 100 years ago.

One family, for example, spent two years rebuilding the front wall of their home because it took that long to gather all of the old bricks they needed. The small mom-and-pop grocery store in the neighborhood was painted a pinkish-lavender, a shade much loved by Victorians.

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