Site is vacant months after demolition

Community leaders seek meeting with city officials

February 22, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

It's a crater smack in the center of the 2100 block of Calvert St., "the saddest block I've ever seen in my life," says Sara Salvania, 20, an Oberlin College student who spent her winter break studying this part of her hometown.

Right now, no one knows what to do about this picture of blight.

As with several other sites, the demolition on Calvert Street, a central corridor, is left from the last days of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration. His successor, Martin O'Malley, has promised to review the practice of taking down vacant houses in a scattershot manner.

Before the four 1880s-era Queen Anne-style rowhouses on Calvert were knocked down, the house fronts were removed, leaving the facades open and revealing the interiors in an eerie dollhouse effect.

The demolition in early December left an unsightly hole strewn with sand, wood, blocks of cement, a growing layer of trash and a few mice, all a short walk from Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School.

Some commuters who whiz by might see the hole as an emblem of many tears in the city's architectural patchwork.

Neighbors have to deal every day with the "big old open space," as one put it. Last week, an 8-year-old boy was injured by wires that poked his leg while he was playing on a sandpile there, residents said.

"Kids can't ride skates and bikes on this cement cracking. It's dangerous, period," says Rosheda Jackson, 23, who lives a few doors down. "I twisted my ankle."

As a first step toward a solution, a neighborhood leader is holding an informal block meeting in her home Saturday. "If we do nothing, that's drifting into helplessness," said Clara King, a social worker who lives on the 2100 block of St. Paul St., parallel to Calvert. From her front door, she can see Lovely Lane United Methodist Church. From her back window, she can see the large hole in the ground.

King has invited city planning officials to attend the meeting.

"We have to work with them on a solution," she says.

A mayor's office spokesman said no decisions have been reached on how to address the huge hole on this largely vacant block of rowhouses, some with broken windows revealing chairs in rooms that once had fireplaces in sitting-room parlors.

Mary Ellen Hayward, a Baltimore architecture expert and co-author of "The Baltimore Rowhouse," said the remaining rowhouses, which feature terra cotta heads of cherubs over each doorway, appeared to be well-built and structurally sound.

"It's especially sad to see in a block of nice houses," Hayward says of the demolition. "The past administration was too eager to take things down."

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the nonprofit Abell Foundation, has taken an interest in the Calvert Street situation and says that a neighborhood consensus should emerge. "As far as whether the block comes down totally, that's up to the community."

King says neighbors should map short- and long-term strategies for neighboring properties. While a handful of those houses are occupied, the rest are derelict and some are used by squatters, neighbors say.

A woman who works in a small bail-bond business next to the demolition site says the hole is depressing to look at.

"You don't get used to it," she says.

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