Charles Village

Old and new meet in this diverse and artful section of the city.

December 02, 2004|By Kim Phelan | Kim Phelan,Special to baltimoresun.com

Charles Village sits at the crossroads of Baltimore old and new. While historic painted lady rowhouses are carefully maintained and repainted in traditional Victorian style, a multi-million dollar construction project proposes to bring in new businesses and apartments. The city's oldest architecture cozies up beside new innovations in music and performance.

This study in contradictions builds Charles Village's unique character. Stretching from Howard Street east to Greenmount and University Parkway south to North Avenue, Charles Village encompasses academia, history, culture and civic pride into an oasis in busy Baltimore.

Citizens of Charles Village are typically atypical, as evidenced by the abstract local arts scene and diverse street and neighborhood festivals. Denizens range from Johns Hopkins college students in the heart of Charles Village to young families up and down Abell Avenue to townies and community activists anywhere in between.

From the Charles Village festival and Halloween fair to the Abell Street Festival and Johns Hopkins Spring Fair, Charles Villagers are never without a reason to celebrate and show off their civic pride. With so much art, history and culture, there is plenty to be proud of.

Charles Village was initially a post-Civil War, get-rich-quick scheme that did not quite pan out, as get-rich-quick schemes are wont to do. A group of investors aimed to make the area then known as Peabody Heights into a posh neighborhood notable for its proximity to the estates there -- the Homewood House, Wyman Villa and Evergreen House among them. Initial developers met with little success, but when the neighborhood finally did begin to grow some quarter of a century later, it could not be stopped. Peabody Heights quickly blossomed into a neighborhood replete with the ornate rowhouses that still line its streets today. The painted ladies, as they are called due to their colorful facades, are still maintained to the highest degree, each more vivid than the last.

When Johns Hopkins University moved its campus to the locale in 1915, the neighborhood changed yet again, breeding a number of apartment buildings and eventually a series of high-rises. In a flourish of community spirit and renewed development in the 1960s, Peabody Heights was renamed Charles Village after the street running through the center of Baltimore City.

Even now, Charles Village is changing dramatically. Currently in mid-facelift, the neighborhood cannot wait to show off its makeover after the completion of the impressive and aptly named Charles Village Project. Scheduled to be completed by 2008, the project will bring new apartments, increased commercial space, a parking garage, more student housing and a new Barnes and Noble-owned university bookstore, as well as a renovation of St. Paul and 33rd streets. For the time being, Charles Village residents have become acclimated to their interim state dominated by beeps and bulldozers.

At the heart of Charles Village, Johns Hopkins University is a major local institution. Theater flourishes in the university's four major performing arts spaces and a variety of other small venues, with most open to the public for only a few dollars. Monthly screenings of recently released movies as well as Snark Sneak Previews at one of the state's largest movie screens at Hopkins' Shriver Hall keep Charles Villagers busy on weekends. Unlike many neighborhoods with sizeable universities, there seems to be little strain in the town-gown relationship in Charles Village, though the Hop Cops, as security officers are affectionately called, are kept on their toes busting off-campus students for noise violations. For the most part, Charles Village welcomes the fresh faces with open arms every September and celebrates their athletic victories proudly through the winter and spring with signs and banners proclaiming their allegiance to the Blue Jays.

Getting to Charles Village is trouble-free thanks to a number of city bus routes that run through the neighborhood. Driving to the locale is a simple trip up Charles Street from downtown. But parking is another story. Much of the area parking has time or permit limitations or is metered, and the situation is only exacerbated by the construction. A shortage of affordable parking lots does not help, but the situation promises to improve as the construction project is completed.

Parking is not the only caveat to be heeded when visiting Charles Village. Though generally an idyllic neighborhood, Charles Village is not without crime. Car break-ins are not entirely uncommon and those who prowl Charles Village at night should be mindful of muggers.

Despite this, Charles Village is well worth the visit. Nestled in a metropolis, it maintains the feel of a small town with its active and enthusiastic population but has all of the activity and culture of a bustling city.

Places to go, people to see

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