Southwest Baltimore houses a revitalization

July 16, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

IT'S TAKEN ME all summer to inspect Camden Crossing, the name given to street after street of substantial new rowhouses that seemed to have jumped up, overnight, in Southwest Baltimore, not so far from Camden Yards and the old railroad station of the same name.

As I walked along Scott Street, I looked across a field and saw an expanse of new housing activity that reminded me of the mid-1950s, when it was common to see blocks of rowhouses rising along Loch Raven Boulevard near Northwood Elementary School.

I don't always know just what neighborhood name to paste on this part of Baltimore. It goes by Washington Village, Pigtown and Barre Circle, depending upon whom you ask. I have a feeling that before long they'll be known as the new houses.

This development is in one of those places where a chunk of ancient industrial Baltimore has disappeared and been recast as a place for housing, and plenty of it, all at one time. As I walked along Scott Street, and peered through a chain-link fence, all I could see was a row of new foundations and "Sold" signs.

I thought back to what had been here in the days of rusting gray industrial buildings, the old Koppers Co., which in an earlier era had been known as Bartlett Hayward or Bartlett, Robbins & Co. I think of the huge work forces employed here, as well as in the nearby Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Mount Clare Shops, where the steam whistles summoned the neighborhood to work every morning and workmen cleaned up, after a day's laboring at the forges, at the Walters' Public Bath House on Washington Boulevard.

After trying to make some sense of all the changes sweeping through Southwest Baltimore, I made for the Lexington Market, only to get pleasantly sidetracked at Baltimore and Eutaw streets, just beyond the University of Maryland campus.

Every so often I experience a Baltimore moment, something that truly halts me in my tracks. On this humid July morning I saw some construction activity just east of the Hippodrome, at 322 W. Baltimore St. Decades ago, when Baltimore's ready-to-wear clothing industry dominated this district, the circa-1867 building with a splendid cast iron faM-gade housed the College Cut Clothing Co. Until a highly publicized eviction a couple years ago, No. 322 was the El Dorado strip club.

For years the city's architectural preservation community worried about the 322 building because it languished in a not-so-great neighborhood. Now that's all changed; this University of Maryland-dominated neighborhood is off and running thanks to projects such as Camden Crossing, several new apartment towers and the nearly ready Maggie Moore's pub and restaurant housed in the venerable Baltimore Equitable Society Building, at Eutaw and Fayette.

In the past few months a good cleaning and coat of paint have transformed No. 322. Its delicate and artfully designed iron columns and window castings never looked better. The 1991 book Baltimore's Cast-Iron Buildings and Architectual Ironwork tells us its facade was likely cast at the old Bartlett foundry a few blocks away.

The freshness of all the construction in this district imparts energy to the southwest flank of downtown. The dazzling visual transformation of No. 322 as a major Victorian landmark only adds to these considerable assets.

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