S. Baltimore rowhouses are moving up in class

March 13, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

I'VE BEEN ON a home improvement campaign this winter that's left me in awe of those who undertake real projects. I see the evidence all over town, where traffic lanes are blocked by oversized steel construction-refuse containers heaped with sand plaster and lots of bad old Baltimore kitchen linoleum.

There seem to be more containers per block in what we now call Federal Hill, but I grew up knowing as South Baltimore. I mention this because South Baltimore is where my father's family lived, and to this day, my brother Eddie has the old family home on Poultney Street, my sister Ellen is on William Street and my baby sister Josephine is on Hull Street in Locust Point.

Even when South Baltimore was not so fashionable, my father sang its praises. I'm not so sure he would be ready for the note in last Sunday's paper when the 1401 Battery Ave. property went for $850,000. This was not a renovated house; it was a whole former rectory from St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church, which I presume will soon make its debut as a half-dozen expensive flats or condos. Actually, $850,000 for that substantial chunk of the block didn't seem too high.

With the low interest rates, and the spring home-selling season upon us, I was chatting with some friends familiar with the South Baltimore situation.

Real estate investors are seeking beat-up rowhouses in what we call Federal Hill and are enlarging them, often with new third floors or substantial rear additions. A two-story home becomes a three-story, plus the required rooftop deck, often used only on the night of the Fourth of July, but nevertheless, always part of the package. I'm told you often don't see the changes from the street, but if you walk the alleys, you will note the rear add-ons and pop-outs.

Much of the customer base for these reworked wonders comes from the new businesses along the harbor, those in Tide Point or the Bond Street Wharf, the people who moved to Baltimore as part of the Morgan Stanley relocation. They, of course, do not carry the impressions of the city held by those of us who need smelling salts when talk of a $440,000 rowhouse surfaces.

We who shared some of Baltimore's delightfully persistent Depression mentality find all of this hard to imagine. I grew up in a city that, although comfortable in its homes and neighborhoods, did not believe a rowhouse could be worth more than say, $6,000.

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