Office workers take a turn outdoors for community cleanup Burst of volunteers brings summer project to a close

September 11, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Nobody ever made much of a fuss over Lorraine Avenue before yesterday.

The worn-out little block between Barclay Street and Greenmount Avenue in North Baltimore was a mass of peeling paint, pock-marked marble steps and a brick street with years of broken glass jammed in its crevices.

But all that changed when two busloads of volunteers from the Manekin Corp. arrived to paint and scrape and sweep for Operation Facelift, a summer-long project to refurbish the facades of houses in the Harwood neighborhood.

Yesterday was the final blitz of the ambitious project that began in June, sponsored by the Harwood Community Association and the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, to stem the tide of deterioration in the community.

"Harwood is critical to the city's Northeast corridor," said Vincent P. Quayle, St. Ambrose's director. "If it's allowed to deteriorate, the physical and moral and human blight will spread to stronger neighborhoods and demoralize them."

The effort has brought 500 volunteers from camps, churches and nonprofit groups all summer long to help.

For its part, the Manekin Corp., which manages and develops commercial and industrial properties, decided to shut down three of its offices for the day and send its usually desk-bound staff to transform the 400 block of Lorraine Ave.

"I guess everybody feels we owe it to the community. We have been successful, and it's a way of sharing our good fortune," said Harold Manekin, one of the company's founders.

By 9 a.m., a banner noting the company's 50th anniversary was strung across the street and a caterer had laid out bagels and pastries under a tent in the morning heat.

Eighty Manekin employees -- executives, bookkeepers, data entry clerks, human resources workers and construction supervisors -- were streaming out of two rented buses and setting up scaffolding.

"People are going by thinking we're filming 'Homicide,' " said Ralph Moore, St. Ambrose's mastermind of Operation Facelift.

He's on a cellular phone to his office, looking for six more brooms for the workers.

The Manekin people came yesterday at the end of a whirlwind of volunteerism during the summer. Moore figures the workers have gone through 357 gallons of paint and 200 disposable paintbrushes. They've planted 32 trees.

In all, they've spruced up the facades of 184 houses in a 28-block neighborhood that extends from 25th Street on the south to 29th Street on the north and from Greenmount Avenue on the east to Guilford Avenue on the west.

As the morning wore on, residents looked in amazement at the strangers fixing up their homes.

Minnie Smith, who has lived on the block since 1971, came out early to watch.

"When I first moved up here it was a beautiful block," she said. "Then it went downhill. Now it's coming back up. I'm so happy I don't know what to do. I can sleep at night."

Smith and others on the block see more than paint when they look at the work of the volunteers.

They see a place the drug dealers left a few months ago when the activity began in the community. They see new streetlights the city installed to deter crime.

"It's been wonderful. There's been a subtle groundswell of people coming together, and there's been hope," said Hilary Matzinger, a community activist on Harwood Community Association's board.

"It's been subtle, but strong and steady. People are spontaneously coming out to help neighbors," she said, adding that the face lift has been "a tool to organize the community."

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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