200 volunteers pitch in to clean up Harwood 8-week effort aims to make area "look presentable"

June 16, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

At least 200 volunteers and residents in Harwood used paintbrushes and hammers yesterday to resurrect the spirit of the North Baltimore neighborhood numbed by neglect and drugs.

"Operation Face Lift" -- an eight-week renovation of the Harwood community -- started with an 8 a.m. pep rally at Barclay and E. 25th streets yesterday and ended its first day at 4 p.m. with a promise to keep the neighborhood clean.

"We want residents to come out and get their face looking good," said Betty Palmer-Gregg, vice president of the Harwood Community Association Inc. "It's not a major repair. It's to make it look presentable."

Organizers started planning the project in October. The St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center advised the Harwood community and helped it get volunteers and about $10,000 in donations from Maryland businesses.

"These are decent, hard-working people who want to live in a decent neighborhood," said Ralph Moore, acting community projects director for St. Ambrose. "It's just hard to keep the spirit up. It's easier to start with a fresh coat of paint."

In preparation, community leaders sent fliers and city housing inspectors gave at least 40 citations to landlords.

"It's wonderful," said Betty Wilson, president of the Harwood Community Association Inc. "This is one way of turning the blocks around."

The 1,912-home Harwood community is framed by 29th Street on the north, 25th Street on the south, Guilford Avenue on the west and Greenmount Avenue on the east.

Yesterday, the typical sounds of birds and traffic in the area were overcome by sounds of hammering, raking and scraping.

By 10 a.m. the spirit of renewal started spreading. Residents tore down rotting parts of their houses. People who peeked out of windows just an hour earlier were filling trash bags.

But not everybody caught the spirit.

Moore called out to two men strolling down Barclay Street.

"You want to grab a hammer and help, brother?" Moore asked.

"No, that's all right," the man said, not breaking his stride. "You all are doing a good job."

A deejay hired by March Funeral Home Inc. cranked up the gospel tunes and faded into rhythm and blues as the sun got hotter.

Gary Letteron, a community forester, cleaned up a railroad overview on 25th Street.

"This is neat," said Letteron, not understanding why people would litter the area. "It's a very nice resource to the community."

Letteron's partner, Gregory Byrd, 7, tugged a trash bag as big hTC as himself. "I get mad when people throw bottles here," said Gregory, who lives on the block.

Moore roamed the blocks like a basketball referee, calling shouts of encouragement and criticizing both the residential and corporate neglect of this portion of Baltimore.

Renaya Nkechinyere, a senior city housing inspector, checked some exteriors as volunteers worked, and then helped paint a picket fence herself.

"I'm looking forward to positive results and a new look in the Harwood area," she said.

But for some residents, the rapid cleanup was a tease, as their homes still need repair.

On Ilchester Ave., the work on Marlene Watson's house has to wait a while -- at least until her landlord makes major changes required by recent citations.

Her roof is slanted, and the front porch is nearly caved in.

"I feel real bad that I have to live with this," Watson said. "I hope [Operation Face Lift] makes things better."

Volunteers are scheduled to come out every Saturday through Aug. 17, but organizers hope residents will continue the work on weekdays.

About 11 a.m., Ray Brusca, vice president of Human Resources at Black & Decker Corp., lifted his head, wiped his brow and surveyed the 2500 and 2600 blocks of Barclay St.

"The critical part of this is when you clean up, making it stay that way," Brusca said.

Later yesterday afternoon, as volunteers slowed down under the hot sun, a group of five young men glided around the corner of 26th Street, talking and thoughtlessly dropping trash where a rake rested against the fence.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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