Dad's fond memories of living around old South Baltimore

July 20, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

One recent quiet Sunday, my father, Joe Kelly, and I toured the old streets of South Baltimore, the places around Riverside and Federal Hill parks where he played as a child, visited his friends and generally called home.

We used a curious map. It was a listing of the postal Zone 30 real estate transactions as detailed in this newspaper's Sunday real estate section. These were not the prices asked for South Baltimore homes but the prices realized, an indication of just how much some buyer is willing to pay to live in the places known so well to both of us.

I should state that South Baltimore has never had a more loyal troubadour than my father, who loved its ancient thoroughfares and hidden courts when some Baltimoreans would not admit even a knowledge of the place. For so many years, South Baltimore was unfashionable, off the beaten track, an urban mystery.

My father remains one of his neighborhood's great defenders. In the 1930s, he thought its streets had a look of old London; he'll even compare them to scenes described by Charles Dickens.

One of his favorite sermons surrounds his memory of 1930s Federal Hill. In the early evening he'd visit the park and observe the Chesapeake Bay steamers leaving their wharves for Norfolk, Philadelphia or the Eastern Shore. He'd try to recognize each steamboat by its throaty, distinctive whistle. Truth be told, I would not mind seeing some newsreel footage of this sight, if it exists somewhere.

When a September hurricane or storm churned up the Patapsco, he'd wrap himself up and watch the action from the head of Warren Avenue or from one of the walks around the hill. He knows other distinctions, say, the difference of the sounds of the bronze bells in St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church vs. his old home parish, Holy Cross.

As city real estate prices have bumped up - and up again - I've observed the Zone 30 increases with a curiosity. So does he. After all, my brother, Eddie, lives in the old family house built by my great-grandfather in 1881 near the Cross Street Market. My sister, Ellen, lives up the hill and around the corner. Josie, my baby sister, lives in the heart of Locust Point.

My father, who married in 1949, left the old neighborhood, in a sense. He moved to what is now called Charles Village and has lived there since. But I can scarcely recall a week when he hasn't returned to the old neighborhood, once, twice, occasionally daily. As a child, I spent many Sundays with my grandmother and her sister in this, the old neighborhood.

Based on what this newspaper reported, the summer of 2002 South Baltimore prices are hotter than the tar on a Riverside Avenue roof. We did many drive-bys, spending a few minutes outside the two-story house on Jackson Street that fetched $285,000 and the three-story house on William Street that changed hands at $471,285.

We couldn't figure it out - what buyers will pay for Baltimore rowhouses. We observed, issued critiques and scratched our heads. Then my father, assessing a block of buff-colored brick Warren Avenue homes where the prices burst past $500,000, observed, "It's what I've always been saying, it's a great neighborhood."

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