Washington Hill: 28 blocks with a Village feel Contentment abides amid wrought iron, stained glass and quiet

Neighborhood Profile

June 09, 1996|By Rosalia Scalia | Rosalia Scalia,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Southeast Baltimore's Washington Hill is a 28-block neighborhood with a Greenwich Village feel.

The community boasts a variety of architectural styles -- Federal, Queen Anne, Italianate, Second Empire and Victorian -- dating from the 1790s to the present. Some of the community's larger homes feature elaborate mansard, slate roofs, decorative New Orleans-style wrought ironwork, intricate stained glass transoms, wood cornices and limestone or brick embellishments.

Other homes, some smaller, are characterized by 2 1/2 stories -- they are known as "eyebrow houses" -- and three-story, all-brick structures with sloped or flat roofs. And the plentiful homes with shop-front exteriors reflect a time when merchants lived near their workplaces.

"The houses such as mine used to be where the working class lived," said Bill Thomas, who moved to Washington Hill 14 years ago during the community's initial renaissance effort. His renovated "eyebrow" home includes a rooftop deck that offers a spectacular view of the downtown cityscape, Fells Point and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It also boasts a landscaped backyard garden, -- the work of his housemate. The array of tropical plants and two bubbling fish ponds has won national recognition and has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens.

"I sit outside on my back deck and enjoy the quiet; it is hard to believe we are in the middle of the inner city, in the shadow of Church Hospital," he said.

According to Betty Hyatt, who grew up in the neighborhood and moved away before return-ing 21 years ago, the diversity of the community's housing stock earned it a designation for historical significance from the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

"The variety of architecture makes it interesting," Hyatt said. "But I'm a city girl. I have really good neighbors -- we all watch out for each other -- and I like the convenience of being able to walk everywhere."

Just north of Fells Point, slightly northeast of Little Italy, Washington Hill is bounded by Lombard and Pratt and Bank streets on the south, Orleans Street on the north, Washington Street on the east and Central Avenue on the west.

The community is home to a number of institutions, including the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Church Hospital, Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church and the Eden Street Synagogue.

Development of the area actually began as early as 1790 when the newly merged entities of Fells Point and Baltimore Town tried to annex their two ports and connect the two business centers.

At the time, Harford Run (now Central Avenue) posed a barrier between the two entities and the only thruways were the Wilke Street causeway (now Eastern Avenue) and the Dulaney Street Bridge (now Baltimore Street).

Between 1797 and 1812, the city walled in Harford Run, drained the swamps and built a bridge across Fayette Street, allowing the community to grow as a residential and business community.

The community was settled by a population as diverse as its architecture, and included free African-Americans before and during the Civil War and later Irish, Bohemian, Russian and Polish immigrants and Lumbee Indians. Its legacy of diversity in population and architecture has remained intact today.

Named for Washington Medical College -- now the original Church Hospital building -- the neighborhood's strong community organization has not given up its 20-year renaissance effort. In fact, founders of the renaissance can look around the neighborhood and see definitive progress in their long-term struggle to eradicate the blight that had threatened the area during the 1970s.

The community association's effort to refurbish the neighborhood -- one project at a time -- has given rise to a number of innovative housing options.

The oldest and most innovative is the 218-unit housing co-op along sections of Baltimore and Fairmount streets. All of the various-size units are owned by the residents, Hyatt said. "As a co-operative, we screen would-be neighbors before they move in to make sure they can financially handle living in the co-op," she said.

Close to the community's largest park, recently dedicated to and named for Betty Hyatt in recognition of her longtime effort in the community's redevelopment, is Fairmount on the Park, which consists of 100 new, two- and three-story, brick Federal-style townhouses.

They were built about 11 years ago after the city razed decaying houses, said Kathleen Finston, a transplanted New Yorker who moved to the community 22 years ago.

According to William Cassidy, a Baltimore manager for Long & Foster Real Estate office, because of the diversity in housing styles, costs for a home in Washington Hill can range widely. Tiny, unrenovated shells can sell for $14,000; slightly larger, newly rehabilitated homes can range between $40,000 and $96,000.

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