Robbers steal couple's dream in city

This Just In...

March 26, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

In Wednesday's column about the Georgia couple held up at gunpoint in Federal Hill, I mistakenly reported that they were scheduled to settle on the purchase of a $339,000 downtown house the day after the armed robbery. In fact, they were scheduled to submit a contract for the house; they canceled their plans to do so after the holdup. I regret the error.

There's been a lot of reaction to Wednesday's column. Some of it will appear in this space next week.

THE CITY OF Baltimore could have increased its population by two last weekend, but it didn't happen. The man and woman who had decided to buy a $339,000 four-level townhouse in Otterbein - with a carriage house, two-car garage and a rear deck they'd planned to convert into a sun room - were robbed at gunpoint Friday night in Federal Hill.

And now they're looking to buy in Baltimore County.

If the gun hadn't already convinced them to forget settling down in the city, the cops who took the armed robbery report did. All three officers who responded to the 911 call told the couple they'd be better off buying a house in Baltimore County. That's where the cops live, after all.


So, there it is. Welcome to Baltimore, hon!

Do you think this story might bother the mayor of Baltimore, the City Council and the police commissioner? It should. It should anger anyone who cares about the future here, anyone thinking of investing their time or money - and their heart - in the city.

What I have here is more than just an anecdote; calling it that makes it sound like an aberration. It is not merely ironic; that makes it sound like peculiar coincidence. It's sad, at many different levels, and terribly symbolic of what has been eating the charm off Charm City during the past decade.

The couple - they asked not to be identified in this column - came here from Marietta, Ga. The husband is a high-ranking executive of a major Baltimore-area company; he's in a position to hire and influence a lot of people.

He and his wife have been renting a downtown condominium while they search for a new house. They decided to search in the city.

Their kids are in college now, and city life held a lot of appeal for them. "We wanted something different," the wife tells me. "We liked the whole idea of being able to walk about, walk to restaurants, meet people, the sense of community. We had lived in Charleston, S.C., for a while and liked that a lot. We like the excitement of the city. We really like Baltimore's old charm. I spent Friday on Lee Street [in Otterbein], trying to get used to the area. I wasn't quite sold on it but I remember feeling, by the end of the day, 'Hey, I can live here.' I had virtually, in my mind, moved in."

Otterbein, between the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, has been a point of pride in the city since the early days of the Baltimore Renaissance. It was described in The Sun in December as "a jewel," and a neighborhood of "new houses with decidedly suburban amenities amid blocks of restored mid-19th-century rowhouses."

Saturday morning the couple from Georgia were to settle on the Lee Street rowhouse.

Friday night they went out to dinner. They walked to Sisson's on Cross Street and had a grand time.

"It was noisy and full of people, and we thought, you know, this would be a great place to bring our friends when they come to visit," the wife says. "After dinner, we decided to take a walk."

Sometime after 9 p.m. - just two hours after I had been there with my wife and two kids - they walked to the top of Federal Hill and into the park for the great view of the harbor. They saw what my wife and I had seen - joggers, people with dogs, other couples taking walks and making out. At the eastern edge of the park, they looked down to the American Visionary Art Museum and the basketball court nearby. Some boys were shooting hoops.

They walked through the park toward Warren Avenue. Along the way, two young men stopped and asked, "Hey man, what street are we on?"

The husband said he didn't know. He and his wife kept walking. The two young men followed.

The couple picked up their pace. So did the guys behind them. A few blocks later, near where Hamburg meets Henry Street, one of the men ran past the couple, stopped, turned and pointed a gun at the husband. "A little gun, about 5 or 6 feet from his face," the wife says. "He demanded money. The other one with him had a hood pulled up over his head and just stood to the side, sort of ducking. ... We were in a nice part of the neighborhood. I could have reached over 3 feet and knocked on someone's door."

The robbers ran off with maybe $40 in cash, the husband's wallet and credit cards - and the couple's desire to live in Baltimore. It all vanished, right there.

Saturday morning's settlement was canceled.

Saturday evening, the husband wrote a note to the real estate agent who had been working hard for him and his wife.

"In a few brief moments the angry young man holding a .38 special only inches from my face convinced me that our lives would not be spent living in a city desperately working to remake itself into a viable and exciting alternative to suburban living. ... A shortcut home through an affluent neighborhood - well-lighted and clean with distinctive charm - was briefly interrupted by two young men demanding money, wallets and possibly our lives.

"Our search for a new home and a sense of community continues. I am determined to find a place where [my wife] and I can safely walk the streets at night in our neighborhood with caution but no fear.

"Good luck, Baltimore, our almost home."

Pub Date: 3/26/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.