Charles Village celebrates 100th Neighborhood: From its early days as quaint Peabody Heights to its current hip Charles Village image, enclave's uniqueness rises from its architecture and residents.

February 24, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Anne Ely is Charles Village's poster girl.

Her small, solemn face stares out of a 1920s street scene near her father's pharmacy and soda fountain at Guilford Avenue and 28th Street. The sepia poster will be unveiled tonight when Charles Village launches its centennial celebration with a gala at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"There were marble-top tables and as much ice cream as you could eat. Can you imagine how perfect for a child?" Ely, now 78, said as she recalled growing up at a time when downtown was a streetcar ride away and a dollar was more than enough for lunch and a Saturday movie.

Then, the neighborhood was on the city's northern outskirts and was called Peabody Heights. Its country-cousin charm attracted buyers, who purchased homes for $4,000 to $7,000.

Now the name is different -- changed to Charles Village in 1967 by a group of residents to improve the image of the neighborhood, which has evolved into an urban enclave as the city has grown.

In the 1970s, a wave of younger homeowners moved into the rectangle defined by 33rd Street on the north and 25th Street to the south, with Guilford Avenue on the east and Howard Street and the Johns Hopkins University on the western edge.

Over the years, the look of its tall, stately brick rowhouses has stayed largely the same: They were built to last. These days, they sell for an average of slightly less than $100,000, according to Melvin Knight of W.H.C. Wilson & Co.

The houses are a point of pride for residents, who dote on unusual touches such as Doric columns in living rooms and wood-burning stoves in kitchens. But many say, as they prepare for the 100th birthday party, that what drew them to Charles Village was the city life outside their doors.

Going to museums, libraries, concerts and the grocery store "without using the internal combustion engine" was what attracted Sheila Rees, a block captain who walks the village streets at night on a voluntary patrol.

Just as the houses are roomy, the neighborhood seems to have room for all kinds.

Juvenile Justice Master Jim Casey and Baltimore Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon, an interracial couple, "needed a neighborhood we'd both feel comfortable in, in terms of an interracial neighborhood," Casey said. "There's not that many of them," he said.

"It's a cool place," said Andrea Van Arsdale, president of Charles Village Civic Association. "We're left of center, we're tolerant and we're on an upswing because of the organization of a benefits district."

In 1994, Charles Village residents voted to create a separate tax district to pay for extra sanitation and public safety services. Since the district was established, crime has fallen by 20 percent, according to Tracy Durkin, director of the benefits district.

Merchants in the area also find cause for optimism. Jerry Gordon, owner of Eddie's Market on St. Paul Street, said he just finished a "reinvention" of his grocery store into a more upscale market as "a great leap of hope."

Gordon and others are pinning hopes on a city plan to develop more commerce catering to students at Hopkins' neighboring Homewood campus to create a livelier college town atmosphere on St. Paul.

Meanwhile, the sense of community that resulted in electoral approval of the benefits district has carried over into the neighborhood's centennial celebration.

Plans include a parade, a 5-kilometer race and a garden festival during Memorial Day weekend. Most unusual among plans will be an "urban camp-out," a sleep over for children and parents organized by Casey, in the Wyman Park dell.

"It's part of reclaiming and saying, 'The neighborhood is ours,' " Cannon said.

For Ely, the dell was part of her childhood world in a more innocent era. She and her friends from Margaret Brent, then an all-girls school, spent afternoons playing with their dolls in the dell.

"My mother thought nothing of leaving us alone in the park," she said, "with a little picnic."

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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