Blue collar fading to white

Locust Point: Heavy industry is giving way slowly to high-tech, and plans for the first new housing in 74 years will lure more newcomers.

March 14, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Don't say Locust Point is turning yuppie. Longtime residents in this industrial, waterfront enclave in southern Baltimore would have a fit.

But Locust Point's blue collar is slowly getting a stripe of white as it becomes the latest part of the harbor's renaissance.

Some changes might seem small -- the addition of bagels, salmon and cream cheese to the venerable Rallo's restaurant menu -- but bigger ones are coming.

A sign of the future is Tide Point, a $53 million renovation of Procter & Gamble Co.'s former detergent plant that is expected to become a hub for Internet start-ups. A year from now, at least 1,400 high-tech workers are expected to have offices there, up from 200 now.

By next spring, developer Ted Rouse plans to build 36 upscale, three-story townhouses four blocks from Tide Point. It would be the first new housing development in Locust Point in 74 years, activists say.

That's quite a jolt for a quaint neighborhood that has lost about 2,600 industrial jobs in the past decade, including 90-year-old Chesapeake Paperboard, which recently announced that it will close its recycling plant and lay off 100 workers.

"The community is on the verge of big changes," said Jim French, a Baltimore city planner in the southern district. "In Federal Hill, they call it `the march of the brass lamps,' because when yuppies come in they tend to put brass lamps up.

"Now that's creeping south. Locust Point isn't there yet, but it's poised."

Councilwoman Lois Garey says the neighborhood is a throwback to the 1950s. "You walk through, and it's like where's Beaver Cleaver?" said Garey, who represents the 1st District.

The area's biggest claim to fame is Fort McHenry, just off Key Highway. Another is Domino Sugar. It is also known for its "grandmother homes," houses passed down from generation to generation, many of them nestled between factories.

Joyce Bauerle, president of the Locust Point Civic Association, owns a home next to a huge grain elevator. She said that 10 years ago there were no "for sale" signs in the neighborhood, which has about 1,000 homes and 15 bars.

"When grandparents died, grandchildren took over the house," said Bauerle, who has lived there for 58 years. "It's the type of neighborhood that if somebody dies, you know about it and you go visit."

A recent and subtle shift has attracted young people such as Del. William H. Cole IV, 27. The Democrat, who represents the 47th District, moved to Locust Point four years ago from Federal Hill.

"I love the community, the houses," Cole said. "It's quiet, safe and stable. Most homes here are still sold by word of mouth."

The week he moved in, he said, his mother stopped by when he wasn't home. His neighbor told him later that night, he said, " `Honey, someone was by today. She was blond, about 50 years old and here's her tag number.' "

His neighbor's interest floored him at first but has become one of the reasons he loves the neighborhood. He dismisses any notion of Locust Point becoming "yuppified."

"The knock on yuppies is they move in and fix up the house and you never see them," Cole said. "Locust Point won't accept that. You have to have a responsibility to keep it safe and clean."

He said residents will keep that homey feel in the neighborhood, even when Tide Point is complete.

"Tide Point is bringing the new economy to Baltimore's waterfront. This will create jobs at a velocity Baltimore hasn't seen in 50 years," said William Struever, chief executive officer of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., which is developing the site and 36 homes.

"There was a time when people were leaving Baltimore's great neighborhoods. Now people are choosing to stay. Tide Point reflects a national trend of tech-based business run by young folks in funky old industrial buildings."

Advertising.com, a direct-marketing firm whose revenue has jumped 230 percent in the past three months, was the first to move in.

"I like the fact that we're innovators in our business and in our office space," spokesman Chris Parente said. "There's construction going on all around us, and it's exciting."

On Fort Avenue at Chesapeake Paperboard, there is no construction. A hundred laid-off workers were figuring out their benefit packages two weeks ago.

"I only had two more years before retirement," said Don Aro, 59, who was a paper cutter for eight years at Chesapeake. "It's going to be a hard time for me to find a job at 60."

Some of the workers at Chesapeake used to eat lunch at Rallo's, a 59-year-old restaurant on East Fort Avenue. Now, some Tide Pointers eat there.

Owner Vince Rallo sees the neighborhood going in a new direction and is rolling with it.

"Industry has virtually left Locust Point. The longshoremen who used to frequent this restaurant have been trickling off since 1984," Rallo said. "We've had to nurture the residents of the neighborhood."

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