Canton: a bit of Baltimore through and through White marble steps, ethnic areas and views of the harbor

Neighborhood Profile

November 19, 1995|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Canton is a blend of all things Baltimore.

In its nearly 100 blocks, it contains much that Baltimore is known for -- working industries, Formstone rowhouses with white marble steps, ethnic neighborhoods, gleaming waterfront condos and harbor views.

It survived Baltimore's Great Fire in 1904, the modernization of factories, which closed many of its plants, and a proposed superhighway in 1966 that would have gone through the center of the community. It's been reincarnated from the "gold coast" of waterfront development that never quite sparkled in the 1980s to the newest hot spot for young people to buy their first homes.

For that reason, Canton is called everything from "the new yuppie den" to a "suburb of downtown." Old meets new right on Boston Street.

"There's a real mixture here and it seems to work very well. There's a real sense of community -- both old and new. It's ethnically and architecturally diverse," says Linda Heisner, president of Canton Square Homeowners Association, who has lived in a Canton Square townhouse since the development was built in 1987.

Caroline Burkhart, another Canton Square resident and a former real estate agent, recalls her first listing in Canton. "Someone told me I'd better list it as Highlandtown. Things have really changed."

The neighborhood has changed so much that Bill Cassidy, sales manager for Long & Foster Realtors in Fells Point, lists Canton as one of the five hottest areas of real estate in the city.

The commuting time -- eight minutes to downtown, four minutes to Interstate 95 -- is one of Canton's biggest draws, according to Mr. Cassidy.

"I see a mix of empty nesters coming back to the old neighborhood and of single people who can walk to the attractions on O'Donnell Square. Young couples, especially DINKs [Double Income, No Kids], certainly appreciate the commute. One can work in D.C., the other in Hunt Valley and both have comparable commutes."

That and the "walk-around friendliness" of the area have earned it the title of "Baltimore City's suburb," Mr. Cassidy says.

Commercial development is also hot in the area. Though the 1980s' developer dreams of Canton becoming a "gold coast" never became reality because of a national recession, new projects have been steady.

Construction has begun on a $10 million combination boatyard/marina at the old Lighthouse Point site on Boston Street. Lead developer Dr. Selvin Passen says plans call for a marine recreation center with a restaurant, pool and cabana, retail space, and housing.

Across the street, construction began in June on a gourmet Safeway that is due to open next December. The site, adjacent to the historic American Can Co. factory, runs along Boston Street, Hudson Street and Lakewood Avenue. The street in between these two projects, Boston, is scheduled for a overhaul this year, too.

At the other end of Boston Street, O'Donnell Square has become a third area of major development in recent years. Once a farmers' market, the grassy space is lined with hip, new restaurants and bars and few small shops and offices.

A statue of Capt. John O'Donnell, the local merchant who named Canton after the Chinese port city where he imported goods to Baltimore, stands in the center.

O'Donnell Square, along with waterfront condos such as Tindeco Wharf and Canton Cove, have been attracting a younger group of people to the old neighborhood.

'It's very safe'

Bill Larney, the 27-year-old owner of Looney's, a popular Irish pub in the square, has been living in Canton for 4 1/2 years. "I knew it was an up-and-coming neighborhood. It's clean [and] it's very safe."

Janet Byers, director of housing at the Southeast Development Inc., a nonprofit initiative set up to provide loans and counseling for first-time buyers and training for real estate agents, says they get a lot of the "bar crowd."

The publicist for Southeast Development, Bob Mead, said the affordability and value of houses attract first-time buyers to Canton. "They [buy here] because they don't want be house poor. They still want to be able to go out to dinner and travel. And a lot of young people like to do rehab projects."

The initiative is even setting up a computer bulletin board to sell houses to Generation X.

Some residents worry

Some residents worry that the old neighborhood may become the next Fells Point, though.

"The traffic is getting bad. [The bar patrons] make loud noises and urinate in public just like they do in Fells Point. They leave plastic cups and beer cans all over the place. Sometimes we can't park in front of our houses," said Betty Piskor, a resident and community activist for 42 years. "But the [young] people that move in are respectable."

Ms. Piskor, a 67-year-old widow who still lives in the house where she raised her six children, has watched the progression of the neighborhood.

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