Good, bad memories tumble down as Lexington Terrace high-rises implode

July 28, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It took 20 seconds to make 30 years of Ruth Miller's life disappear.

The 65-year-old mother of 10 watched with tears in her eyes yesterday as five high-rises in the Lexington Terrace housing project sank into the ground in a waterfall of bricks, leaving only memories of block parties and camp-outs and children growing up and moving out.

At 10 a.m., a succession of firecracker pops, a cloud of billowy dust and finally a boisterous cheer from thousands of people marked the end of the decrepit housing complex demolished by the city to make way for traditional rowhouses.

But for Miller, who was one of 386 residents relocated to new homes in preparation for the demolition, the pile of bricks left on the ground symbolized three decades of surviving.

"My heart is still thumping," said Miller, walking away with four grown daughters still sniffling and wiping away tears.

"It was a good place to raise children years ago, but I had gotten fearful at the end because of all the violence. We no longer had control over what happened there anymore.

"But it wasn't always bad living," said Miller smiling as she recalled being dragged out of her home in April by her children as workers prepared for the implosion. Although she lives in Sandtown-Winchester, she wished she were still at Lexington. "It was good living, too. I remember the good times. Today is so sad, but it was time."

City officials couldn't agree more, saying the demolition -- which attracted 20,000 onlookers, according to police -- is a giant step forward in getting rid of Baltimore's housing problems.

"It's a great day, and I think people are excited," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke who mingled with the crowd before speaking at a block party held for former Lexington Terrace residents at the in- tersection of Franklin and Schroeder streets.

"Most people know that what we're doing here conveys a sign of hope, because we're tearing up the old and building up the new. We're turning a new chapter for the city of Baltimore."

That was a sentiment shared by many as people, who were entertained beforehand by a parade of Baltimore marching bands, recognized old neighbors and ran toward each other in a shower of hugs and kisses to laugh about old times. For some it was a chance to re-connect with childhood friends. For others, it was the last opportunity to say goodbye to an old home.

Not everyone, however, was pleased about the demolition. Janice Dowdy, a former resident and teaching assistant at Lexington Terrace Elementary School, said the complex could have been saved despite falling victim to crime.

"It didn't have to come down," said Dowdy, 59. "They just let it deteriorate. I believe it could have been saved. We lived there 13 years, and we survived. It's not where you live, but how you live. In fact, I feel that I am a stronger person having lived here."

But, yesterday was not a day to talk about the violence, drugs or mayhem that slowly devoured the low-income complex, eventually making Lexington Terrace a high-crime area, former residents said. It was a day to relish the good times.

A time when neighbors held crab feasts and picnics, and a time when everyone attended summer carnivals held in the community. It was also a time when children could still hold sleep-overs outside the high-rises under the stars.

Terriel Brown, a former resident, fondly remembered hearing the daily bellows of "Let the elevator go!" from impatient neighbors -- waiting for an elevator that crept up 11 stories.

The memory of sticky candy apples and snowballs sold by Miss Tiny on Fayette Street brought a smile to the faces of Ernest Washington and his 75-year-old father, Melvin, who claims to be the first family to move into the complex some 37 years ago.

"Everybody was family back then," said the elder Washington who lived in the complex for 27 years before moving to the 3100 block of Baker St. in Northwest Baltimore in 1995. "It's so lovely to see everyone all grown now. I know just about everybody here, so it's so sad to see it all go."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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