A family aura awaits newcomers


Residents work together to make Brewers Hill safe, clean

August 25, 2002|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Francis Cain knows the story by heart. In 1993, two Baltimore police officers visited his Southeast Baltimore neighborhood as part of a community relations effort.

"They asked, `What do you want to name yourselves?'

"We said, `Well, we don't know.'

"And they said, `How about Brewers Hill, because of the two breweries?" It made sense. The neighborhood houses the remnants of National Brewing Co. and the Gunther brewery.

And so Brewers Hill came to be.

A traditional, working-class neighborhood, Brewers Hill was once considered part of Highlandtown, stretching from Fleet Street to Dillon Street and from Conkling to Haven.

No matter what it's called, the area maintains its strong familial roots. The much-coveted properties are often handed down to the next generation or sold word-of-mouth to neighborhood friends.

If you're among the few to find one of the trademark, two-story brick rowhouses on the market, you soon discover that buying a home in Brewers Hill is more like joining a family.

Mary Hennigan, president of the Brewers Hill Neighborhood Association, has lived in the area all her life. She and her husband live in her grandparents' former house, one of the original model homes along Fait Avenue. Her mother grew up there, as did her aunts and uncles. Her father and stepmother live down the street, as does her brother. Her husband's mother lives on Milton Street, and his sister lives on Curley Street.

Hennigan has never lived outside the neighborhood and says she never will.

It's a story not uncommon to those in the area.

Maggie Narock, who has lived in Brewers Hill for nearly half a century, attributes her lifelong dedication to her neighborhood to the community itself. "The people in Brewers Hill work together, regardless of their age, to keep the neighborhood clean and safe," she says.

Margie Olencz, also a resident, learned about her house on Foster Avenue at a neighborhood party when a friend told her that one of the residents was planning to sell. "So, I rapped on her door," she recalls. About six months later, the woman called her. "That's how I bought my house," she says.

With selling prices ranging from the $90,000s, houses in Brewers Hill appeal to those seeking city living without having to pay the top-dollar prices of Canton and Fells Point, says Linda Shoemaker of Coldwell Banker's Fells Point office.

Situated near the Inner Harbor, downtown and an enclave of shopping and tourist attractions, Brewers Hill has caught the eyes of developers. Plans call for redeveloping the National Brewery with office, retail, residential and light industrial tenants, says David Albright of Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse.

The project follows the 1997 renovation and subsequent conversion of Canton's American Can Co. into office buildings and shops, which some attribute to the area's surge in property sales and residential prices.

Despite record-breaking sales and plans for nearby redevelopment, Brewers Hill residents say they feel no temptation to move, even if some stand to reap more than 10 times the original value of their homes.

Five years ago, former District of Columbia resident Pat McCready made a rare find while walking along Conkling Street. As she admired Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, she noticed a for-sale sign across the street. The sign had been posted that afternoon. Immediately, she called the sales agent and signed a purchase agreement for the asking price.

Before discovering Brewers Hill, McCready had considered buying in Canton but was unable to find a place suited to her needs or her budget.

"Plus," she says, "[Canton] may be nice on a Sunday morning when you want to stroll up for brunch, but it's hell on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night when you want to park."

Buying the house in Brewers Hill was a hasty decision but a wise one, she says, adding, "Things just seem to be more stable here than they are elsewhere. And I do like the quiet."

Francis and Lois Cain grew up around the corner from each another in Canton. They moved to the 2600 block of Foster Ave. but found that raising three children in a two-bedroom rowhouse was "too many kids and not enough house," Cain says.

They set their sights on Brewers Hill.

Their found their house by way of a familiar face 14 years ago. The former owner had been a good friend of Lois Cain's father. After his death, it sat vacant for two years. "When his wife found out we wanted to buy the house, she came to us," she recalls. "She wouldn't sell it to anybody else. She wanted to see it go to somebody she knew, as though she were keeping it in the family."

"That happens a lot," Hennigan says. "At one point in time, about 20 years ago, if the person died or something, you pretty much had to go to the funeral parlor to see what the family was going to do if you wanted a house in this area.

"Now it's coming back to that. I have people who call me and ask me if there are houses, and people who are selling call me and ask if I know anyone who wants to buy."

Cain sits across from Hennigan, shaking his head. "We sit here and laugh because we can't believe what people are getting for these houses," he says. "A lot of people who moved from here wish they were back. And they can't get back, because now they can't afford it."

He laughs at all the fuss over the place they call home.

Brewers Hill

ZIP Code: 21224

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 5 minutes

Public schools: Hampstead Hill Elementary, Canton Middle, Patterson High

Shopping: shopping districts along Eastern Avenue, throughout downtown Baltimore, Fells Point and Canton

Active units: 2

Units sold: 8

Average list price: $96,088

Average sale price: $92,555

Average days on market: 43

Average property sold for 96.32 percent of the listed price.

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