Edmondson mall: 50 years in bag Celebration: A trailblazer in a community of lights, Edmondson Village Shopping Center is honored by those who fondly recall its founding and impact on their lives.

October 24, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Half a century ago, when many commuters took streetcars downtown and Howard County was considered the country, Edmondson Village Shopping Center opened to the public.

It offered a then-unique experience -- the suburban-style shopping mall, with its acres of free parking.

Tomorrow, many residents of nearby communities will gather at the shopping center in West Baltimore to celebrate its 50th birthday in official ceremonies attended by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other dignitaries.

"The shopping center has meant so much to the community over the years that we could not let this year pass without marking this anniversary," said Heide Grundmann, a longtime community activist in the nearby Ten Hills neighborhood and central organizer of the event.

Grundmann has had community residents combing their files for weeks, looking for memorabilia related to the shopping center that will be on display tomorrow.

Among their finds is a 1950s picture of the shopping center decked out for Christmas.

"That's one of the main things everybody remembers -- the Christmas lights," said Freda Grim, a longtime Ten Hills resident. "They used to put these little white lights on the sycamore trees out front. Oh, they were beautiful. Of course, back then, none of us had seen anything like it.

"People used to come from all over Baltimore just to see those Christmas decorations."

Fifty years ago, newly married Grim and her husband, C. Louis Grim, settled in the area after he had completed his military service and launched a career as an electrical engineer. They raised three sons there.

For them, "The Village," as locals call it, became a prime spot for shopping and socializing. In the summer, area residents took their children there after dinner for ice cream; in the winter, they might catch an evening movie.

On Saturdays, there were etiquette classes where ballroom dancing was taught to awkward teen-agers.

The shopping center was built by Jacob and Joseph Meyerhoff on 10 acres of what had been the Hunting Ridge estate.

When it opened on May 7, 1947, the shopping center, built in the Williamsburg style, was called "unique in American city planning" by The Evening Sun.

In his book, "Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story," author and longtime Hunting Ridge community resident W. Edward Orser writes that the Village "might make fair claim to being the first regional suburban shopping center of harmonious design on the East Coast."

Its main anchor was Hochschild, Kohn & Co., the first major department store to open outside downtown.

Some 40 retailers were there, including Whelan's drugs, Hess Shoes, Food Fair, Rice's Bakery, the Dugout restaurant, Princess Shops, Music Mart, Tommy Tucker dime store and Gamerman's camera shop. The center also had a community room, medical and professional offices, a bowling alley and a movie theater.

In the mid-1950s, Hecht's opened a store across the street, on the south side of the 4500 block of Edmondson Ave.

The area was destabilized by rampant blockbusting, in which speculators induced whites to sell their houses at rock-bottom prices, then they sold the houses at a premium to blacks.

Between 1955 and 1965, some 20,000 white residents fled the rowhouse communities of Edmondson Village, Orser writes in his book.

In the early 1970s, the shopping center was acquired by Harry Weinberg, who drew much criticism from city officials for letting his properties deteriorate. Hochschild Kohn and the Hecht store closed -- the latter eventually becoming the city's Westside Skills Center.

In 1987, JHP Development Co. signed a 40-year lease on the center and cleaned it up and installed uniform signs, lighting and other improvements. But the center has still been troubled by crime and vacancies. The main tenant now is UniversityCare, a clinic run by the University of Maryland.

Freda Grim is among many local residents who no longer shop at the center, but she plans to attend the celebration.

"There are many, many people who have wonderful memories of Edmondson Village," Grim said.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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