Canton's Crossroad

Tales Of Linwood Avenue

Along a few short blocks in the heart of Canton, the changing neighborhood's memories and dreams live side-by-side.

Cover Story: Canton Comes Back

May 07, 2000|By Story by Tom Pelton | Story by Tom Pelton,Sun Staff

Walk down Linwood Avenue in Canton and you'll hear the past and future of Baltimore banging up against each other as clearly as people hear their neighbors' barking poodles and cell phones through the walls of these 14-foot-wide rowhouses. On Linwood, with its view of barges slipping past in the steel-gray harbor, you can feel the conflicts and ironies of gentrification in this blue-collar neighborhood, where wealthy professionals are flocking to a landscape of failed canneries and fertilizer plants.

In the house beside the trash cans in the alley, a Canton-bred payroll clerk infuriated her architect neighbor by opposing his construction of a three-story, post-modern addition with a vaulted ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows, remote-controlled gas fireplace and an 8-foot brick wall to prevent her from looking at his new garden pond.

Across the street and down a few doors is a 79-year-old construction worker who walks the neighborhood seeing a ghostly landscape of factories, warehouses and hardware stores that no longer exist. He wants to move, but his wife's family has lived in their home for four generations.

Past the iron railing, a plumber fled Canton because he hated all the rich young people flooding in. He ended up selling his home to a "high school kid" who launched a multimillion-dollar Internet business above the convenience store across the street.

And through the blue steel door on the corner is a Polish-American Army veteran caught in a new battle. He's determined not to sell his deserted drinking club to restaurateurs eager to turn it into a nouveau seafood cafe with Andy Warhol-style prints on the walls.

Twenty years ago, the homes along this part of Linwood Avenue were owned by an auto body-shop worker, a fuel-truck driver, a fireman, a plumber and two elderly women. Many of them were Polish-Americans who attended church, enrolled their kids in local schools, voted straight Democrat and stumped for the local City Council members.

Today, Linwood is home to a computer equipment salesman, an Internet company owner, a lawyer, an architect, a dentist and a hospital administrator who works with AIDS researcher Dr. Robert Gallo.

They have been drawn from the suburbs by the dream of living in a tightly knit urban community. But these new residents generally spend their Sunday mornings in the coffee shop instead of church, communicate with their friends via e-mail instead of on the stoops, plan to move out when they have kids and often vote Republican or independent if they vote at all.

In a few short blocks, this street encompasses the changing identity of a neighborhood that was once the industrial heart of Baltimore.

Here are some tales of the transformation of Linwood Avenue.

Four inches and worlds apart

Old and new Canton co-exist as mirror opposites on either side of the 4-inch-thick wall that separates two formerly identical rowhouses in the 1100 block of South Linwood Avenue.

On one side of the wall is a portrait of Elvis, a china cabinet displaying an "I Love Lucy" collector's plate, a cow clock, green wall-to-wall carpeting, wood paneling, a large framed photograph of a poodle over a fireplace and a sign above the door proclaiming, "The Family that Prays Together, Stays Together."

On the other side of the wall, a flip phone and laptop computer rest on a coffee table in a room with halogen track lights, white maple floors, French glass doors, exposed brick walls and an industrial-looking steel staircase.

The first home -- the one with the Bible on a table beside the couch -- belongs to Darlene Mullins, a 49-year-old payroll clerk at a tool distribution company who struggles to keep her 18-year-old son out of trouble as she cares for her ailing 68-year-old mother.

The daughter of a stove manufacturer, she's lived on Linwood since 1973, when her former mother-in-law helped buy the place as a wedding present for $2,500.

Mullins is an overworked, cherubic woman with dimples in her cheeks, a sweetly high-pitched voice, a passion for porcelain angels and a tendency to sound like a street fighter when the subject turns to her next-door neighbor's renovations.

"If he wants to build this huge addition on his house, why doesn't he just move out to the county?" she asks.

"He" is Barry A. Miller, principal of a Baltimore architecture firm that designs renovations for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and other clients.

Miller, 40, who grew up in the suburbs of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a good- humored, articulate guy who wears sandals to work and lives in his futuristic dream house with his wife and two young sons.

He bought the house for $71,000 in 1989 and estimates that his renovations have tripled the property's value to perhaps $210,000. But they certainly have not raised his value in his neighbor's eyes.

"She won't even look at me or say hello when I leave the house," Miller says.

"I just walk by if he's outside," Mullins confirms.

"It's pure spite. She's a spiteful person," he says. "That's old Canton."

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