One of Baltimore's oldest areas receives a brand-new look -- and a brand-new life

November 05, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

My mother taught me that if you've lived in Baltimore long enough, chances are some of your ancestors spent time on Exeter Street. And this fall, there is another chance to buy a new residence on that street and to move to a whole new neighborhood, being marketed under the name Albemarle Square.

Think of this district as Little Italy North or Post Office South, with Corned Beef Row as its Main Street.

I also like the name Jonestown, which was one of the three original settlements of Colonial Baltimore, along with Baltimore Town and Fells Point.

The other morning, I set off on foot through this heart of Jonestown -- and wound up spending nearly two amazement-filled hours at what has been accomplished here. This fall, a new neighborhood has taken shape on the footprint of the old Flag House Courts public housing development that was dynamited in February 2001.

I walked old streets named Granby, Plowman, Albemarle and High. I looked around, delighted at fresh vistas and streetscapes. There are new rowhouses everywhere. I am told that about a third of the residences are public housing, a third are rental and another third are for sale at market rates. Walking past the old Lloyd Street Synagogue, and B'nai Israel, I thought: "Hmm. You could have a walk-to congregation here." I thought of where, as a child, I looked at crates of live chickens on the Lombard Street sidewalk on those Sunday afternoons my father took me to Stone's Bakery.

There's always an energy connected with new construction, but it does not necessarily follow that the results will be to your liking. Well, how could a Baltimorean not like rowhouses, more than 300 of them, set on historic street grids? I totally agree with the concept that cities cannot be saved; they can only be inhabited.

It is a real act of urban planning magic when neighborhoods that have been ripped apart by rotten development, hard-looking, windowless buildings, parking lots and empty holes become reknitted. I watched this take place 30 years ago, when the Otterbein neighborhood in South Baltimore was reconnected to Federal Hill. Now it's hard to tell where one begins and the other starts.

I got the same feeling the other night as I passed Stadium Place on 33rd Street. I still miss Memorial Stadium; but the new housing and YMCA, as well as the reconditioned old Eastern High School, do wonders for Waverly and Ednor Gardens.

I guess the reason I spent so much time in Jonestown and its environs is that I kept discovering new aspects. One of the pleasant surprises in the new Flag House neighborhood is a little ellipse that has been added to Lombard Street, between High and Albemarle. Baltimore streets are normally ramrod-straight; a little curvature is a neat touch.

Another revelation was how the whole thing embraces Little Italy and downtown Baltimore. One minute you're in the Pratt Street office and business district; then, before you know it, you're in this pleasant domestic enclave.

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