Downtown park making comeback


Cleanup: Preston Gardens has fallen into disrepair, but an effort to revitalize it has begun.

May 25, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN IT OPENED in 1919 on the north end of Baltimore's downtown business district, Preston Gardens was considered the local version of Central Park, a swath of public parkland with the potential to enhance every property around it.

Over the years, the park has decreased in size, as St. Paul Place was widened and redesigned to slice through the southern end, and the Orleans Street Viaduct was built above it. The park also has fallen into disrepair as city maintenance funds have dwindled.

This spring, a local group has mounted an effort to bring Preston Gardens back to its former glory, if not its original size.

Last month, employees of Mercy Medical Center and Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks spent two days removing shrubs and planting flowers in the park, which is along St. Paul Place between Centre and Lexington streets.

On May 16, employees of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, the Tremont Suite Hotel and the parks department installed new benches and trash receptacles.

Tuesday at 5 p.m., Mayor Martin O'Malley will preside over a rededication ceremony in the park, which was named for former Baltimore Mayor James Preston.

The effort to restore and revitalize the park has been led by Mercy Medical Center, at 301 St. Paul Place, the Downtown Partnership and the mayor's office. Corporate neighbors helping clean and maintain Preston Gardens include Bell Atlantic, Southern Management, Provident Bank, Peabody Institute and New Foundations, a school for troubled youths.

Organizers say their goal is not just to give Preston Gardens a one-time makeover. They want to build a constituency for the park and develop a strategy to make sure it is maintained properly. They also want to encourage more people to use the park for picnics, concerts and other occasions.

"Sitting here in a building that looks right out into Preston Gardens, my impression is that we have a terrific opportunity," said Sister Helen Amos, executive chairwoman of the board of trustees of Mercy Health Services, the parent of Mercy Medical Center. "It seemed to me that if the neighbors of the park could come together and reclaim it for our city, it would be a wonderful achievement."

Sister Helen said the Sisters of Mercy in Baltimore, the religious order that sponsors the medical center, completes a community service project each year. To mark the order's 125th anniversary this year, she said, Mercy Medical Center decided to lead the effort to clean up Preston Gardens and get others involved.

Now that the initial work is over, Sister Helen said, the neighbors are committed to keeping the park in good shape. Mercy will lead an annual spring cleanup, and Bell Atlantic has committed to provide the manpower for a fall cleanup. Students from New Foundations will help pick up trash.

`Great Excavations' under way at Johns Hopkins

The Johns Hopkins University will hold a "people's groundbreaking" at 11 a.m. tomorrow to mark the start of a six-month campaign to improve the Homewood campus.

The project, dubbed "Great Excavations," grew out of a yearlong effort to create a campus plan that will guide development on Hopkins' Homewood campus. A university supporter who saw the plan offered an anonymous gift to implement those ideas starting this summer.

Over the next six months, asphalt roads and walks will be replaced with brick and marble on 24 acres of campus from University Parkway south to Shriver Hall and from Charles Street west to the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy.

Cars and trucks will be diverted from the center of campus, which will be a pedestrian-only zone.

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