Canton's rebirth is heard in rhythmic beat of hammers

May 11, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

IF YOUR THOUGHTS about old Baltimore need brightening, visit Canton in the southeast part of the city.

The sound of the carpenters' hammers and building-material delivery trucks is all over Boston Street, as well as at little neighborhood crossroads you almost have to discover by accident.

Which is exactly what happened to me last week, when I was bound for the Baltimore Travel Plaza and wound up behind a slow driver. I had plenty of leisure time to observe. As often happens here, while searching for a destination, you stumble across something new.

I've read all the news stories about how this part of Baltimore is on the upswing. But the arrival of some new bars and restaurants does not necessarily make for truly improved neighborhoods. What has startled me this month is the way all the pieces seem to be coming together in a happy formation.

I had to chuckle. Some of this part of Baltimore is being advertised as "garage townhouses." I spotted the banner at the old A&P at Fait and Kenwood, then again on Boston Street.

I guess these places are being pitched to car owners (I dread to think of people who might try to use mass transit here, but that's another story), who want a cozy rowhouse. I also smiled at the sign for Brewers Hill, the newly invented name for the old National Beer pile of bricks on Conkling Street. And could natural brick be winning out over Formstone? One house I spotted had the Formstone removed - except at the cornice. It looked like a Formstone valance - and, to my eyes, wasn't bad looking, either.

And what about those lovely Canton blocks, the ones that went up 100 or so years ago, where the streets are still paved in brick, and maybe here or there a surviving painted screen? Is this not classic, super-scrubbed-clean Baltimore?

Thanks to the rain that has finally arrived, even vacant fields looked green and lush. I think of two prominent, cleared sites - the former Flag House Court public housing project off Lombard Street and the old Church Hospital at Broadway and Fayette. The demolition of the 1950s wing of this institution has opened a new vista of the ancient Washington Medical College Building, a 19th-century gem topped by a gold cupola salvaged from downtown's Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church. These are marvelous building sites; I trust what goes here will be a credit to these neighborhoods.

And, speaking of green, try a walk in Patterson Park. Whatever you do, inspect its pagoda. Amazing.

What these neighborhoods are all about is a decent place to live. And after decades of talk, community activism, difficult change and patient, hard work, these locales are maturing into fine residential assets.

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