The city enclave prosperity forgot

Remington: Some residents feel the gentrification of Hampden has eluded its neighbor to the south.

March 13, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Compared with its gentrifying neighbor Hampden, Remington often feels like a neighborhood Baltimore forgot.

While Hampden's main shopping avenue has been reborn with hip shops and galleries, such as Mud and Metal and Paper Rock Scissors, and gained notoriety in John Waters' movie "Pecker," no such wave of prosperity has visited Remington to the south.

"I would never want to live in Remington, and you can quote me on that," says Terri Becker, 38, a Hampden resident who works as a bartender and manager at Long John's Pub in Remington.

A proposal to open a nightclub in Remington will receive a community hearing tonight, but it might not be the symbol of change long awaited.

Billy Hadel, 33, who spent 11 years living in one and 11 years in the other, thinks that while Hampden has changed for the better, Remington has gotten worse.

The only operational city facility in Remington is a lot full of green trash trucks parked near Interstate 83, Remington's western boundary. The neighborhood has no public school, no recreation center, no library branch and just a few churches. Businesses include automotive and industrial companies, junkyards, roofers, a pizzeria or two, a carryout called Chicken Bones, a closed broom warehouse and a used tire store.

"There's one or two baseball diamonds and one basketball court in all of Remington. That's it," says Gene Molinaro, a Northern District police officer on night patrol. "There's nothing else."

Girls sit on a stoop and watch cars go by after school. Boys might start a basketball game on a makeshift court -- a long walk from the community's only playground that lies behind the Johns Hopkins University. Proximity to the prestigious school has been of minimal benefit to the roughly square-mile community in North Baltimore.

Like Hampden, Remington was built in the 19th century as a mill town near the Jones Falls. Many current residents see Remington as an island unto itself, with generations of families living in its brightly painted, modest rowhouses -- about 1,000 households in all. Some never leave.

"Most of my friends are family. My uncle lives in the house my father grew up in," says Delores Johnson, 35, who recently moved for the first time in her life -- less than a block away.

A motorist on West 29th Street bound for the Jones Falls Expressway might not realize he's passed through Remington. But the line between it and Hampden is sharply drawn in some minds, who see the "Hampden" sign on Sisson Street as clear demarcation between those they mix with and those they don't.

This rivalry is especially true for youths, police say. An unsolved juvenile shooting last summer took place in the park and hill that separate the communities. Over the past five years or so, Remington became racially integrated -- more so than Hampden -- with little trouble, police say.

In general, they say, Remington is seen as more tolerant than Hampden, which has had some publicized incidents of racial conflict in the past.

Crime in both places differs, police say. Property crimes are more common in Hampden. Remington is more beset by nuisance crimes, such as drunk and disorderly conduct. Both communities have a significant drug problem, police say.

Community spirit is another contrast. Hampden boasts an active merchants association and supports a nonprofit family center. Remington's demographics, with "tons" of children and seniors, is in serious need of more adult males and people in their 30s, says Hazel Helmick, a 47-year-old mother of two sons who lives in the same brick rowhouse where she grew up.

The president of the Remington Community Association, Helmick might be described as the Eleanor Roosevelt of Remington, just as her father was once known as the mayor of 31st Street. She also is known as a snitch among drug users she reports to the police. "I wear that like a badge of honor," she says.

Without her volunteer leadership, no free monthly Skate Nights would be held Fridays -- complete with the hokey pokey -- at Greenmount School; no application would be made to the Parks and People Foundation for money to buy flower boxes to beautify 28th and 29th streets; and perhaps no impetus would exist to draw a master plan.

In Remington's future are at least two prospects: a large vacant building, formerly an F&M drugstore, might be used by city police to store evidence, and Papermoon Diner may expand.

Maj. Michael D.Bass, acting police spokesman, said use of the city-owned building for evidence storage is under serious consideration. For now, however, a sign posted outside the building for nearly two years announcing that it would become headquarters of the Police Athletic League is seen as another broken promise to Remington.

Nearby is a 24-hour diner with eclectic decor, the Papermoon, owned by Un Kim, a dynamic 43-year-old woman born in South Korea. She has big plans.

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