Residents, groups bringing revival to community

Neighborhood profile: Garwyn Oaks

Grant helps restore large old homes

January 13, 2002|By Amelia Cleary | Amelia Cleary,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cherished heirlooms are passed down through generations, carrying fond memories and history with them.

Likewise, memories of better times are coming to life again in Garwyn Oaks, where established residents and newcomers are beginning to revive this Northwest Baltimore community.

Since moving back to her family home in Garwyn Oaks eight years ago, Mereida Goodman has worked to preserve her neighborhood's housing stock, strong community ties and public safety, while eliminating elements that could harm her efforts.

Using experience gained while working for Baltimore City's Department of Housing, Goodman became a volunteer in 1982 for the Garrison Boulevard United Neighbors Association Inc., which serves to protect the well-being of the community.

GBUNA encompasses an area with more than 300 households - christened Garwyn Oaks by the association - and bounded by Garrison Boulevard, Gwynns Falls Parkway, Chelsea Terrace and Woodhaven Avenue.

As part of its focus, GBUNA organizes eight workshops every year for potential homebuyers and current homeowners. The workshops offer homeownership counseling and information on government resources, such as Baltimore's Healthy Neighborhood Initiative.

The Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, launched last year, provides second mortgages at 3 percent interest to homeowners living in specific neighborhoods and streets in an effort to reinvigorate residences. In this case, the city pinpointed Roslyn Avenue in Garwyn Oaks.

According to Goodman, nearly 25 percent of Garwyn Oaks' homeowners bought their property in the late 1940s and 1950s.

"In 10 years' time there's going to be a turnover," she said. "We'd like to maintain the homeowner character of the community." To accomplish this, GBUNA organizes home maintenance workshops to encourage residents to stay.

"You have to give time, talent and money to the neighborhood," Goodman tells residents.

At one such meeting, a representative from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. joined the group to discuss methods of weatherizing the community's large homes, many of which still lack adequate insulation.

In the early 1900s, the city's elite began building houses northwest of the city on Mount Alto, which overlooked downtown Baltimore and was once part of the George R. Vickers family estate. Homes ranged from small cottages to large Colonials. Built between 1915 and 1925, many have six bedrooms, shingled siding and wrap-around porches skirted with latticework.

In early July, the association was awarded a neighborhood improvement grant by the Baltimore Community Foundation to replace the tattered, wooden latticework with a white plastic lattice made to look like wood. Twelve homeowners took part in the project.

Neighbors have gone to workshops to discuss state housing rehab services, the city's emergency roof repair program and other home maintenance issues, but also to find a forum where they can exchange ideas. According to Goodman, the main concern is maintaining quality of life, which includes security and serenity.

Alfred Young, a truck driver, moved to the neighborhood three years ago because he found the residents friendly and the streets quiet. "The back part of my house is covered with trees. It's peaceful," he said.

Shirleen Scurry, a business analyst, moved to Garwyn Oaks 10 years ago. She says neighbors look out for each other, and parents are active in the public schools.

"Kids aren't out on the street here," she said, adding that the MTA bus line running down Garrison Boulevard makes transportation easy for her 17-year-old son.

Goodman, however, acknowledges the stretch of Garrison Boulevard that borders the neighborhood carries with it typical urban problems - litter, drugs and prostitution.

"I don't hide the obvious. But the upside is that you have a community that has looked at itself and didn't like what it saw. So, it decided it was drawing the line in the sand," she said.

GBUNA has been working closely with police and the community law center to fight the infiltration of criminal activity in the area. Federal grants have been given to Garwyn Oaks as part of a program called Weed and Seed that provides for more police patrols and equipment to control traffic.

According to Lt. Thomas Cassella, a spokesman for the Police Department's Northwest District, the neighborhood doesn't have the violent crime that people associate with it. "It's really been a collaborative effort," he said of the progress that has been made.

Tracy Gosson, director of the Live Baltimore Marketing Center, said crime should not be the issue when considering buying a home in Garwyn Oaks. Crime can be fought with police and with help from the community association, she says. Instead, what should be highlighted is the neighborhood attributes.

"It has great potential, because there's great housing stock, big homes, lawns, tree-lined streets," she said.

Homes in the area are priced between $50,000 and $60,000, with those having six bedrooms going for about $40,000 more.

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