Neighborhood profile: Washington Hill

Devoted residents restored community's stability

Renovation saved many houses in area from razing in '70s

Washington Hill boasts an active community

April 07, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

Washington Hill today is the Washington Hill of Betty Hyatt's youth, but in better condition.

"It was a multiethnic community" of lower- and middle-income residents, she said. "It was a mix, but mainly it was just working-class people, a lot of blue-collar, white-collar, but not the executives," said Hyatt, 76, who was born in the 1700 block of E. Fayette St., where she still lives.

While the Southeast Baltimore community may be in better repair now than in the beginning of the last century, it wasn't always that way. Some houses had been turned into apartment buildings and were beginning to show signs of wear even during Hyatt's youth. The deterioration escalated during World War II when more people moved to Baltimore to work in various war industries and the need for apartments increased.

The buildings "weren't meant to withstand that kind of use," Hyatt said.

By 1971, the city had designated 83 percent of Washington Hill housing substandard, with absentee landlords owning the majority of properties, according to Citizens for Washington Hill, the community organization Hyatt helped charter that year.

Hyatt and other community members, however, organized against the city's plan to raze most of the neighborhood and, with help from the Baltimore office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, renovated the community. Now, Washington Hill is 78 percent owner-occupied, and 74 percent of the housing is rated above standard.

Of the hundreds of houses in the neighborhood, fewer than 30 are vacant, said Maureen Sweeney-Smith, executive director of Citizens for Washington Hill.

"We spearheaded all of the other development that's gone on around us," Hyatt said.

The community organization is still active, too.

"We don't really hear much from them, but it seems like that's indicative of the fact that it's kind of a stable neighborhood," said Robert Quilter, city planner for the area. "They seem to be very proactive as to what they're doing to keep the neighborhood in control."

Composed primarily of brick rowhouses, Washington Hill was named for Washington Medical College, which later became Church Home and Hospital. The neighborhood is bordered by Orleans Street on the north, Lombard Street on the south, Washington Street on the east and Central Avenue on the west.

Although there is some new construction, most of the homes are older ones that have undergone renovation. The neighborhood's architecture dates from the 1790s to 1900, in the Italianate, Federal, Queen Anne, Second Empire and Victorian styles. Some feature mansard roofs, ornamental wrought ironwork and stained glass transoms above the doors.

In addition, Washington Hill Mutual Homes offers 200 co-operative apartments throughout the neighborhood and is one of five co-ops in Baltimore, according to Bill Cassidy, manager of the Fells Point office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.

Other community features include Artists' Housing Inc., a 32-studio cooperative on East Baltimore Street established in 1987, and Artisans' Row, a block consisting mainly of craft shops and the result of a mid-1970s community "shopsteading" initiative to bring new businesses into vacant, city-owned properties.

People buying in Washington Hill can take advantage of various city home-buying incentive programs, including Live Near Your Work, which offers employees of 70 city employers $3,000 toward closing costs, and the Housing Venture Fund, which gives lower-income buyers up to $5,000 in exchange for agreeing to live in a house for five years in designated empowerment zones.

Cassidy said he sees young, single, first-time home buyers as well as more mature buyers looking for affordable housing in the neighborhood.

One of the best things about Washington Hill, residents agree, is its location. They can walk to the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Johns Hopkins Hospital and are just blocks from Interstates 83 and 95.

"It's so close to a lot of things," said Carlotta Chappelle, a resident for the past 20 years. Chappelle, who works for a finance company in Linthicum and is a board member of Citizens for Washington Hill, lives in the 1993 Washington Square development of new and restored condominiums and can drive to her office in 25 minutes.

"I feel comfortable walking from my house to Fells Point," Hyatt added. Residents have within easy reach restaurants in Fells Point, Canton, Little Italy and Harborplace.

Residents are 20 to 25 minutes by car from either Marley Station mall to the south or White Marsh to the north, said Cassidy, who added that residents can shop for groceries at the Boston Street Safeway in Canton.

And for many residents, city living has its benefits.

"You can watch the [Inner Harbor] fireworks from our homes," said Donald Fletcher, Chappelle's husband and a lieutenant with the city Fire Department.

Washington Hill

ZIP code: 21231

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes

Public schools: City Springs Elementary, Lombard Middle, Southern High

Shopping: Harborplace; Broadway Market

Homes on market: 7

Average listing price: $79,125*

Average sale price: $73,563*

Average days on market: 97*

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 92.97%*

*Based on eight sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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