The excesses of success Canton: Some longtime residents of the working-class, Polish community are so unhappy with the effects of revitalization that they're moving.

January 24, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Nourished by big-money waterfront development, Canton's working-class roots have blossomed beyond a Realtor's wildest dreams, transforming the old Polish colony into one of the sexiest neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Boston Street is becoming the Charles Street of the 21st century. Ordinary rowhouses that sold for less than $20,000 a generation ago regularly go for $100,000 and up. Simple saloons that offered pickled onions and cheap draft have been remade into twenty-something hot spots with good menus, pastel paint jobs and improbable names such as Looney's and Dooby's.

In less than 10 years, Canton has emerged as a miracle in a city where more housing is razed than built.

And the Sanders family -- which traces its Canton heritage before World War I, when a great-grandmother landed from Poland as a child -- is sick of it.

The Sanderses are so frustrated with side effects of the revival -- noise, parking nightmares, all-night lines at the automated teller machine down the block, belligerent outsiders and unruly drinkers who mistake flower pots for urinals -- that three households in the extended family have decided to move to Glen Burnie.

"My mother worked her whole life at American Can inspecting the ends of the cans. It would be amazing to her to see how they're renovating that place. She loved new things," said Dale Sanders, who grew up in Canton and raised four children there with his wife, the former Joanne Cwik.

"But it's like the Boardwalk down here on weekends, and when the bars close it's another story. People run across your car hoods, urinate wherever they feel like it. Cars get broken into."

"Unless I'm at church or meeting some friends for breakfast, I see no familiar faces, no old-time friends," said Joanne Sanders, who continues the Polish tradition of having her house blessed each New Year in honor of the Three Wise Men's visit to the baby Jesus. "It would be a neat place to live if you didn't have to pick up all the empty pizza boxes and whole cases of empty beer bottles."

Dale and Joanne Sanders have lived in a converted shoe-repair shop in the 2900 block O'Donnell St. since 1970.

They grew up in the neighborhood and have fond memories of an asphalt playground on O'Donnell Street where 1950s grown-ups played cards under a pavilion while kids splashed in a concrete wading pool. It's now a swath of green space used by homesteaders to gossip, exercise their dogs and leave the droppings for others to deal with.

A few doors away, daughter Debbie lives with her husband, Charles Riser, and their two children. Around the corner and up the street, son Dean (entrusted to take the family's homemade kielbasa recipe into the next century) lives on Fait Avenue near Potomac Street.

Instigated by the Risers -- who want something more wholesome and serene for their children than a seven-day-a-week street party -- all of them have staked out several acres of family-owned land near Marley Creek.

The Risers hope to be gone by summer, with the Sanders to follow within a year.

Family members say they'll miss the old neighborhood and will continue to attend Mass at St. Casimir's and commute to O'Donnell Street so the children can stay in their Catholic school.

And they'll be cashing in for the kind of money that would have bought entire blocks of rowhouses in the old Canton.

The Risers bought their two-story brick house for $28,500 in 1983. Few blink when they say they're asking $180,000 and calls have been frequent. Five houses away, next door to Provident Bank, the Sanderses say they have been offered $300,000 for the three-story home they bought for $8,000 from the cobblers who owned it before the. Houses command less the farther you get from the action on Boston and O'Donnell Streets, and Dean Sanders' home on Fait Avenue is probably worth about $60,000.

"I hate the way the neighborhood is now, but I love it in my heart," said Debbie Riser, whose children say they won't move to Anne Arundel County unless their grandparents come along. "It's not the neighborhood I grew up in, and it blows my mind that someone would pay $180,000 for a little rowhouse in Canton."

Canton's problems might be aggravating to residents, but compared with the violent crime across the city, they are largely nuisance complaints.

Maj. Timothy Longo, commander of the Southeastern District, said his officers have taken to giving out criminal citations for offenses such as public urination and noise instead of making arrests. Dog droppings come under animal control, he said.

Of 306 citations handed out in Canton from October 1996 to the end of last year, Longo said, the most numerous offenses were drinking in public, theft under $300 and going to the bathroom in public.

"Quality of life isn't always a police issue, but I can tell you, Canton is one of the nicest areas in this district, partly because of revitalization and partly because of neighborhood spirit," said Longo, who has selected Canton as one of three neighborhoods, along with Patterson Park and O'Donnell Heights, for a permanent team of officers on foot, bicycles, cars and horses who will be in the community every day.

"At the point you throw up your hands and say, 'That's it, I'm out of here,' you do a disservice to what you've worked so hard for. The strongest thing a community has is its willingness not to give up."

Longo's exhortations are a little too late for the Sanders family.

"If you're right here on the square like we are, it's worse than Fells Point," Charles Riser said.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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