Fells Point aura, but lower prices Upper Fells Point remains a secret from the tourists

Neighborhood profile: Upper Fells Point

January 11, 1998|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When asked to give the boundaries of their neighborhood, many residents of Upper Fells Point will offer different answers.

But when asked to come up with a phrase or word that best describes the essence of Upper Fells Point, the answer is always the same. Diversity.

"If you want to know about the diversity of the human species, look at Upper Fells Point," remarked Charles Duff, president of Jubilee Baltimore, a nonprofit development firm that is doing housing projects in the area. Henry Whiting, president of the Upper Fells Point Neighborhood Association, concurs, saying, "We're probably the most diverse community in the city. But, most importantly, we all get along. That says a lot about us."

Again, depending on whom one talks to, the neighborhood is roughly bounded by Eastern Avenue, Broadway, Washington and Lombard streets. Yet the boundary, in some people's views, can go all the way down to Fleet Street and over to Central Avenue. It shares the same Broadway corridor with its more famous relative, Fells Point, but doesn't have the tourists or Saturday night bar crowds and is more residential.

No matter what the exact location, Upper Fells Point is a microcosm of the city, with a wide variety of people represented. The reason for this variety is that from the very beginning of Baltimore's history, the entire section of the city that lies east of the Inner Harbor has been a magnet for newly arrived immigrants.

Starting with Germans in the 1840s and 1850s, and then a major concentration of Poles and Bohemians in the late 19th century, the Upper Fells Point section has been home to an ever-changing population. Many of their descendants remain, giving the neighborhood its blend of interesting stores, institutions and people.

Walking along Broadway and Eastern Avenue, one can see the vestiges of what was once Baltimore's largest Polish community. Some of the Polish building and loan associations that provided immigrants the mortgages to buy their first rowhouses remain, such as the Kosciuszko Federal Savings Bank near the intersection of Eastern and Broadway. This area was once known as the Polish Wall Street because of the number of financial institutions there.

The main cultural institution that continues Upper Fells Point's Polish heritage is the Polish National Alliance on Eastern Avenue.

"Council 21 is one of 200 branches that make up the largest Polish-American fraternal organization in the United States," said Jim Mislak, president of the local PNA. He said council activities that promote Polish culture include dances, lectures and language classes.

"Our role is to keep the Polish presence in the neighborhood," Mislak said.

Housed in the former parochial school once run by Holy Rosary Church, one of the main Polish parishes in the neighborhood, the PNA, in partnership with Jubilee Baltimore, has received funding to convert the top two stories of the building into housing for the elderly. But the most well-known Polish institution is the Polish Home, a social club on Broadway where many Baltimoreans have attended wedding, anniversary and birthday parties.

The latest arrivals in Upper Fells Point are Hispanics.

"The neighborhood has the largest concentration of Hispanics in the city," according to Haydee Rodriguez of the Mayor's Office on Hispanic Affairs. This influx has brought many new restaurants and retail stores along Broadway just north of

Eastern Avenue.

Many of the proprietors of these businesses have come from New York, Washington and Northern Virginia. They find Baltimore an untapped market with less competition. Rodriguez said a study by the Maryland Office of Planning, Legislation and Innovation tracked a 16.8 percent increase in the Hispanic population from 1990 to 1995 in the neighborhood.

In response to this growing community, St. Michael's and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic churches have merged and provide bilingual services to serve their large Hispanic congregation. In addition, seven Hispanic churches are in the area.

Aside from the vibrant street life that the new businesses have brought to Broadway, the community is making its presence known in other ways. The Federation of Hispanic Organizations of Metropolitan Baltimore, which is responsible for the annual Hispanic Festival, is buying a building on Broadway.

The growth of Upper Fells Point is also being supported by a large-scale urban plan, developed by Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse, intended to bring commercial revitalization to Broadway north of Eastern Avenue. Called "Hopkins to the Harbor," it would create a commercial corridor along Broadway from the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, just north of Upper Fells Point, down to the harbor.

Ken Strong, executive director of Southeastern Development Inc., is one of the leaders in formulating the plan. He said the Eastern Avenue Partnership -- as the revitalization effort is called -- will look at Broadway and Eastern Avenue as one large main street.

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