THE CHARACTER of the Falls Road corridor from Cross Keys to Mount Washington and north to Bare Hills has become a mecca for change.
When I first arrived in Baltimore in the early 1960s, we rented a house in Mount Washington. The village then was a collection of shabby frame homes with a small A&P where the locals shopped.
A year later we bought an old barn-red pile on Falls Road above Poly-Western in Roland Park. It was bucolic at the time since Cross Keys did not exist and from our front porch we looked out on part of the Baltimore Country Club's golf course. Not long after our move, however, the Rouse Co. bought the property and began building on the site.
When I look at the Cross Keys complex today, I'm glad urban visionary James Rouse is not around to see how the area has become so densely developed and the handsome facade of the shopping center has been compromised to satisfy the promotional needs of a large national shopping chain.
Architectural integrity seldom wins when competing with the dollar.
I now live on Poplar Hill, within sight of Mount Washington Mill, where the old Maryland Nut and Bolt factory still stands next to the Jones Falls. The imposing stone structure has been beautifully restored and the space converted for office use.
Pricey Whole Foods Market across the way serves an organically minded clientele and also attracts food browsers and people watchers. Other high-end shops on the site include Smith & Hawken, a store for those with a green thumb and greenbacks, and a Starbucks, which draws yuppies with wrinkles and without. What a joy it is to walk across Falls Road these days and admire the wonderful job of adaptive reuse that has taken place on what were once derelict and abandoned buildings.
For some mysterious reason, more than a dozen beauty salons dot the landscape from Cross Keys to Bare Hills, with the heaviest concentration in Mount Washington. Who can explain why the area has become such a focal point for those who carefully tend their tresses?
Further, the Falls Road corridor boasts several day spas, a wellness center, a tanning salon, two centers for electrolysis, a chiropractic office and an acupuncturist. Many of us living in the vicinity can walk to get our nails done, faces peeled, eyebrows and moustaches waxed, feet groomed and bodies oiled and massaged. We can take yoga classes, swim and ice skate year round at Meadowbrook and play tennis night and day at Bare Hills and Cross Keys.
Despite the fact that the economy has turned sour, none of these enterprises seems to be suffering. For those who would rather die than loll on the couch, the sense of well-being generated by working to tone, reduce and beautify the body remains a top priority. Nevertheless, should all else fail, a psychic reader and adviser recently rented space on Falls Road across from Pizza Boli's. And she's open until 10 p.m.
Nineteen pricey new homes are being completed south of Lake Avenue off Falls Road, which will give a lift to the city's tax base.
So, without consulting the psychic, I can safely predict that one or more beauty salons (or parlors if you wish) is likely to open in the near future, thereby intensifying the scent of hair- spray in the area. John Waters Hairspray is playing on Broadway, but in another sense it's wafting right under my nose along Falls Road.
Janet Heller, a free-lance writer, has worked as a writer and editor at the Johns Hopkins University and as a course coordinator for the university's Odyssey Program, and for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. She lives in Baltimore City.
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