Redevelopment project represents changing face of historic Jonestown

Flag House townhouses reorient area to harbor

February 17, 2004|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

"Live large!" urges a sign on a boarded-up Central Avenue warehouse. "Luxury lofts for sale, 1,400-6,000 sq. ft. from $379,000."

Nearby, construction workers are demolishing parts of a long-vacant school, which will be remodeled into classrooms for Baltimore International College, a culinary and hotel management institute. And a group of Johns Hopkins physicians, according to the city, is planning to turn a former hardware store into surgical suites and examining rooms for outpatients.

These are harbingers of vast changes reshaping Jonestown, a settlement that preceded the 1797 incorporation of Baltimore by more than six decades.

"Jonestown is not a neighborhood known by name to many Baltimoreans, but it is certainly known by sight to all," Janet Pope wrote in a 1984 historical analysis. The writing listing its landmarks: St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, the Charles Carroll Mansion, Isaac McKim Free School, Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum, and the Shot Tower.

Jonestown's transformation is being driven largely by real estate pressures moving up Central Avenue from the harbor, reconstruction of a former housing complex and city infrastructure investment.

The makeover will become visible in the next few months when the first residents move into new, Victorian-inspired townhouses off Lombard Street. Those are being built where the razed Flag House Courts public housing high-rises once stood, just steps away from Corned Beef Row.

Starting this summer, Fayette Street, between Fallsway and Broadway, is slated to become a tree-lined boulevard with a landscaped median strip and sidewalks. The $11 million project will take 15 months to complete, according to transportation spokeswoman Kathy Chopper.

In the fall, Central Avenue -from Monument to Lancaster streets- will undergo a $35 million reconstruction.

"The feel of this is going to be much different than people have imagined in the past," said Alfred W. Barry III, a private consultant who worked with Jonestown planners.

The Flag House Courts redevelopment underscores this shift by reorienting Jonestown toward the waterfront. A new grid extends High and Exeter streets through Little Italy to Harbor East, where nearly $1 billion in luxury development is under construction.

Eventually, Corned Beef Row, the once-thriving Lombard Street stretch of delicatessens, butcher shops and bakeries, also will be rebuilt, combining retail and offices with residences, city officials said. Recent demolitions have razed most buildings there, except for three corned beef and pastrami emporiums-Attman's, Weiss' and Lenny's.

Few Baltimore neighborhoods have gone through as many transitions as Jonestown, which is bounded by Orleans Street on the north, Pratt Street on the south, Central Avenue on the east and the Jones Falls on the west.

Named after the pioneering settler David Jones, Jonestown is one of the oldest parts of Baltimore. Its early residents included such notables as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. From the 1820s onward, it became a magnet for immigrants.

Over time, Jonestown went from an Irish-dominated starter neighborhood to largely Jewish and then heavily Italian. Flag House Courts is now being replaced by a townhouse community that will be the city's boldest attempt yet to eradicate pockets of concentrated poverty.

The first phase, consisting of 182 rental walk-ups and townhouses, will accommodate dozens of public housing tenants. But subsequent rows will include 155 garage townhouses and condominium apartments that are expected to sell for up to $300,000. The first residents are expected to move in within the next 60 days. "The spinoff effect will be substantial," said David Sowell, the city housing commissioner's development adviser. "It's really going to stabilize everything south of Fayette Street."

The Flag House Courts venture has been dogged by so many delays that some residents are skeptical. But the Rev. Richard Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, has no doubt about Jonestown's transformation. "Too many people are too deep into this project," said the clergyman, who has been involved in planning efforts for the past 25 years.

Jonestown's proximity to the waterfront seven blocks away increases its attractiveness to investors.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., describes the changes in the area as "sort of this last piece" of redevelopment from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point.

In recent years, development has relentlessly moved toward Central Avenue, spurred by Harbor East.

"We spearhead a lot of things," said Michael Beatty, a principal and vice president of John Paterakis Sr.'s H&S Properties Development Corp., who is in charge of that development of hotels, apartments and shops.

Paterakis owns much of the real estate along the waterfront. For the time being, he will keep and expand his bakery operations along Aliceanna Street, Beatty said. But two huge lots now reserved for delivery trucks at Central Avenue and Aliceanna Street will be redeveloped into 120-foot-high apartment buildings, with retail on the ground floor.

"We want to get these blocks going next," Beatty, 38, said on a walking tour that started from Harbor East and ended in Fells Point. "This will continue."

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