Rebirth in East Baltimore

May 13, 1994

It is easy to be dismissive about the current ambitious planning efforts to revitalize the neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins Hospital. Yet revitalization can be done, block by block. An example half a mile south of the hospital proves it.

We are referring to Washington Square, a $5 million redevelopment project around East Baltimore and Eden Streets that is transforming several blocks of vacant and crumbling houses into 59 well-designed and attractive townhouses and condo units priced from $50,000 to $92,000. Now nearing completion, these homes are bringing a derelict area close to downtown back to life.

None of this was easy. Just ask Betty Hyatt, who has been an agent of change in the neighborhood for decades.

Washington Square was an on-and-off proposition for eight years. Yet it is now a reality -- appropriately on the 20th anniversary of Washington Hill Mutual Homes, a community of pioneering cooperatives for moderate-income residents Mrs. Hyatt helped develop nearby.

Much of the area surrounding East Baltimore and Eden Street is still in horrible shape. But once the new Washington Square homes are occupied over the next few months, there will be a big enough concentration of homeowners to demand improvement. "We hope to do the whole area," vows Rita Hubbard, president of Citizens for Washington Hill.

The Washington Square homes are a combination of rehabs and new construction. Initially all the houses were to be rehabilitated. But as the project got delayed, some became so hazardous they had to be demolished.

"We are offering a product we don't think you can get anywhere else," says Betty Jean Murphy, co-developer of the project.

So what does this have to do with the Hopkins area? Plenty.

For one thing, Ms. Murphy will now concentrate her efforts on redoing 13 derelict houses in the 1000 block of Broadway. She has named her new development "The Baker's Dozen."

If anyone says that it can't be done, she can take the doubters just a dozen blocks south and show that it was done.

"The Baker's Dozen" houses should be under construction this summer and will be among the first redevelopment efforts near the Johns Hopkins Hospital. They will be near a brand-new $3.4 million complex for the elderly that contains 47 units.

Piece by piece, the Broadway corridor, too, can be changed if the various players -- from the city and community groups to the mighty Hopkins itself -- can agree on a strategy and stick to it.

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