Two communities offer hope, history in northwest city

Neighborhood profile: East and West Arlington

West offers homes built a century ago

East dates to 1940s

March 19, 2000|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The 120-foot water tower on Oakford Avenue has been the symbol of West Arlington for 101 years, but after a planned $3.5 million renovation, it might take on a new significance for the community.

On the same site as the refurbished brick-and-marble tower, a planetarium and multipurpose center is to serve as an urban classroom for neighborhood youth.

"It will motivate African-American youngsters to consider going into engineering, mathematics and related science fields," said Charles Griffin, president of West Arlington Improvement Association of Baltimore City Inc.

While the number of blacks attending college has increased over the past 20 years, the percentage majoring in these fields has not changed, said Griffin, whose association received a $100,000 state grant for the project.

The center could be an important catalyst in sustaining the stability of these two African-American middle-class neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore.

East and West Arlington lie between Garrison Boulevard and North Rogers Avenue, paralleling Wabash Avenue and the Mass Transit Administration's Metro line. The West is a turn-of-the-century, single-family detached neighborhood, while its sister community is almost all post-World War II rowhouses.

Few "for sale" signs are in the neighborhoods.

"Houses don't stay empty for long around here," said Mary Whitehead, a 30-year resident and member of the Ashburton-East Arlington Neighborhood Association.

Houses on the market include a three-bedroom, one-bath rowhouse for $75,000 and a 4-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath detached home for $129,900. One of the few original West Arlington houses listed is going for $76,000 and has six bedrooms and three baths. Houses sold in the past year ranged from $50,000 to $100,000.

Although downtown Baltimore is about 15 minutes away, some residents prefer to drive to the Rogers Avenue or West Cold Spring Lane stations and take the Metro. Nearby Northern Parkway is a convenient way across town.

Both communities are predominantly owner-occupied, but like the surrounding neighborhoods of Forest Park and Howard Park, they have absentee landlords. Many of the larger houses have been cut up into apartments. A zoning change a few years ago stopped the conversions, but many of the properties are not well-maintained and are a worry in a neighborhood that prides itself on a well-kept image.

"These multiple dwellings are a distinct blighting influence on the community," said Griffin, an educational and urban consultant. "The landlords don't keep up the property."

He also is concerned about lead paint and asbestos in the houses. "There are children living in them," he said. "We intend to ask the new housing commissioner to inspect those properties."

Griffin said better enforcement of property code violations is needed in the neighborhoods.

Also, "the alleys have been a major problem," said Juanita Russell, first vice president of the West Arlington Improvement Association and a 22-year resident. She said regular cleanup of the alleys by the city is important.

The Rev. Don Sterling of New All Saints Church on Liberty Heights Avenue has begun to develop an assessment of the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Arlingtons. "We want to see what's involved in stabilizing the neighborhood," Sterling said.

In many communities, when longtime residents become elderly and leave their homes, properties often fall into decline. Sterling would like to study the possibility of a neighborhood development corporation to aid passage of housing between generations.

Another concern for the two communities, said Whitehead, is the shopping area along Dolfield Avenue, which needs some sprucing up. "We've talked to the city for the past five or six years, but we've yet to see anything," she said.

The Arlingtons, especially West Arlington, were products of a suburban housing boom that began in 1890 when the electric streetcar was introduced to Baltimore. West Arlington was considered an extremely desirable place to live.

"West Arlington is distinguished by a neighborly spirit that is one of the most enjoyable features of living there," The Sun wrote in 1905.

Before West Arlington was annexed by the city in 1918, it had a mayor and city council and allowed women to vote. It was 1920 before the 19th Amendment provided equal voting rights to men and women in the United States.

The landmark water tower was necessary for West Arlington's water supply. "We plan to get it designated a historic site," Griffin said.

Handsomely designed houses of this era still stand in West Arlington. Most are three stories with corner turrets and ornate porches that wrap around the house. No two designs are alike, but all have wide lawns set well back from the street. Many have turned into apartments, but a number are still owner-occupied, Russell said.

Community pride makes a successful neighborhood, said Griffin, adding, "We're deeply concerned about the quality of life here."

Mayor Martin O'Malley has pledged to help, Griffin said, "but he can't do it by himself. It takes the whole community."

East and West Arlington

ZIP codes: 21218, 21215

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: West Arlington: Grove Park Elementary School, Fallstaff Middle School, East Arlington: Callaway Elementary School, Pimlico Middle School, Forest Park High School

Shopping: Reisterstown Road Plaza

Homes on market: 2

Average listing price: $65,630*

Average days on market: 92

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 95.9%*

*Based on 23 sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan

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