Take a look around -- Baltimore is making a comeback

April 16, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

WHILE GREETING a staff member new to Baltimore, I inquired where he was living. Without the least drop of hesitancy, he replied, "Howard and Fayette," meaning he has moved into the new Centerpoint apartment tower around the corner from the Hippodrome.

It's one thing when you observe the old city come back, get fresh investment and be reinterpreted. It's another when your co-workers and friends actually do the deed and move into the New Baltimore.

I've long preached that Baltimoreans need to take constant refresher courses because the city changes so rapidly. The other evening I took a cab south on Caroline Street from Monument to the harbor. My head was turning 180 degrees every block. While much is permanent about Baltimore, we've certainly been on a binge with rehabilitation Dumpsters and construction cranes.

As anyone who has ever crept into an under-construction housing site knows, there is no perfume as seductive as the scent of fresh-sawn wood. There is something about the geometry of framing and barely completed kitchens and baths. This week, I infiltrated a Mount Vernon carriage house under rehab. I had been curious about this quaint little structure all my life, but never had the chance to advance my curiosity.

I plan to do a little catch-up sightseeing tomorrow when some houses just down the street from mine will be open on the Old Goucher House Tour, which has a stop at old Goucher Hall, now the Baltimore Lab School. The blocks along St. Paul Street and the numbered streets in the low 20s contain the kind of over-the-top Victorians that New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams appropriated for his humorous drawings.

Morticia Addams or Lily Munster would be right at home descending the grand staircases that'll be on view. Be warned. There is no mid-century stark minimalism to be found in the neighborhood of the velvety portieres, parquet floors and floral wallpapers.

The tour also includes a couple of stops in the Peabody Heights part of Guilford Avenue, the street where I was raised, which has been blessed by preservation. One of the stops is at a Teddy Roosevelt-era home built on the site of the 1890s Orioles ballpark.

Renovating these manses is not an easy job; a good snoop tour brings a certain relief that somebody else is doing the work. It also imparts a city pride that Baltimore is healing the wounds of the past 60 years.

I watched the city work hard in the 1970s to start turning itself around; I later observed a fallow period when Baltimore went nowhere and real estate values slumped. Now we're in the gold rush mode, which, in Baltimore's slow and deliberate style, isn't really rapid.

These days I get a kick out of my cab's meter clicking away as we get bogged down by building supply trucks delivering orders for lumber and Sheetrock to houses badly in need of the labor.

The Old Goucher Community Association's tour is tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m., beginning at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, 2200 St. Paul St. To reserve $8 tickets, call 410-243-3706.

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