It's early evening, and people are outdoors. A woman sits on a concrete step outside a hair salon, trimming a little girl's blond hair. Two men sit on a front porch, smoking cigars. Nearby, people eat outside the Golden West Cafe, and others wait to be seated at the Tex-Mex restaurant Holy Frijoles. A street away, two women are perched on steps outside a stone church, sipping from convenience-store paper cups.
Tony Bedon, president of the Hampden Community Council, sits on a bench on his front porch in the 3600 block of Roland Ave., shielded from the street by trees and dense foliage in his front yard. His stretch of Roland is lined with rowhomes and duplexes, each with a brick or Formstone facade, some painted different pastel or crayon-box colors.
Residents see the same things in Hampden as did the producers of Pecker and Runaway Bride, both of which included scenes filmed near Bedon's house.
With its eclectic storefront commercial district, people-filled sidewalks and above-ground power lines, "it's like time stopped in 1950 here" in Hampden, he said.
A "Bawlmer" neighborhood nestled between Jones Falls and Wyman Park, Hampden sports modest older homes - mostly rowhomes - at comparatively modest prices.
Retaining the spirit
While Hampden has retained many of its longtime residents as well as its spirit, the neighborhood has experienced a boom during the past several years.
Storefront vacancies on 36th Street, known as the Avenue, have dropped to practically nil, and home values are rising, though the area is less pricey than Canton or Charles Village.
Most homes range in price from $70,000 to $125,000, while homes on Beech Avenue cost as much as $215,000, said Genie Schwind, a Realtor with Long & Foster's Roland Park office. Schwind is a resident of the 4400 block of Buena Vista Ave., and her mother and daughter live nearby.
"It always [had] the reputation of being clean and safe. ... Now it's becoming fashionable, on top of that," said Melvin Knight, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage's Roland Park at Wyndhurst office.
"It's a good deal, but it's very hard to get a house there," said Knight.
He recounted the story of a house listed at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning. At noon, Knight showed the house to a customer who purchased it later that day, beating five other bids by offering cash instead of relying on a mortgage.
Influx of 30-somethings
The area is seeing an influx of 30-somethings from Canton and Fells Point who have tired of living next to the downtown bar scene, said resident Dan Harvey, president of the Hampden Business Association.
Harvey's businesses, Harvey & Harvey Attorneys at Law and Cotton Duck Title Co., have been on the Avenue since 1993 and 1997, respectively. He named his title company after a type of heavy canvas that the area's mills used to manufacture, he said.
"Women feel safe here. ... That drives a housing demand," said Harvey, adding that a lot of young couples and single women are buying homes in the area.
The affordable, working-class neighborhood is reminiscent of Queens, said Michael Kelly, a teacher at the nearby Gilman School and a former New York City resident who has lived in the 3600 block of Roland Ave. for six months.
His 3-year-old daughter's favorite store is the Turnover Shop, a local antiques business.
In spite of the influx of new blood, the neighborhood is maintaining its old character. New residents live among families that have been in the area for decades.
"I think that the neighborhood became desirable because of long-term residents that lived there and kept things stable," said Bedon, who purchased his house in 1997 with his wife. They live next door to a family that has resided in the area for 40 years.
The neighborhood has the feel of a small town, bordered in part by Druid Hill Park and the Johns Hopkins University, said Bedon.
However, the area's nightlife is within walking distance for residents.
"You really don't need to use your car to go out with your friends on a Friday night," he added.
Locals frequent Avenue establishments such as Holy Frijoles, he said.
Hampden also has been granted entrance into the federal "Main Streets" program to revitalize urban shopping districts, which has helped to bring businesses back to 36th Street.
The neighborhood's commercial center appeals to residents, Bedon said.
"When you've been to one mall, and it doesn't matter if it's in White Marsh or Columbia or suburban New York or suburban Chicago, they're all pretty much the same. ... It's not like that in these smaller [mom-and-pop] businesses that offer a more unique product base," he said.
Of hons and hair
Holidays are big in Hampden. The 700 block of West 34th St. is known for Christmas decorations that festoon the rooftops and illuminate the street.
The neighborhood has a few of its own celebrations as well, including Honfest in early June, which rewards the woman with the craziest hairdo, and the Hampden Village Fall Festival, which brings retailers on the Avenue out of their shops and into the street.
ZIP code: 21211
Commute to downtown Baltimore:10 minutes
Public schools: Hampden Elementary, Robert Poole Middle, Northern High
Shopping: 36th Street, the Rotunda, Lake Falls Village, Eddie's of Roland Park
Homes on market: 22
Average listing price: $70,143*
Average sale price: $69,023*
Average days on market: 66*
Sale price as percentage of listing price: 98.40%**Based on 150 sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.