Charles Village prosperity might just rub off on some of its neighbors

June 17, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

I got a jolt when one of my neighborhood's merchants told me of plans for one, maybe two Starbucks Coffee outlets coming to Charles Village. I was taken aback because Baltimore is such a slow retailing locale that the arrival of a new dry cleaner can be big news.

I spent a part of the morning walking around the construction site at 33rd and St. Paul streets where a large Johns Hopkins University residential building is just about completed. I also took some last looks at a block of rowhouses coming down for another building site bringing additional apartments and the promise of some new shops.

When the plans for all this new construction in the neighborhood where I've spent my life were announced, I was apprehensive about the loss of some landmarks, especially a fine old mansion near the northeast corner of Charles and 33rd streets. It was a classic case of one 1910-era house occupying too prime a building location. By the laws of urban economics, it had to go.

I took a good look at what's gone up in its place, and it turns out to be a fine replacement -- a building whose decorative stonework and detailing complements all those Charles-St. Paul Street apartment houses of the 1910s and 1920s that once had their own public dining rooms, crawling Otis elevators and telephone switchboards in their lobbies. The old apartments of my youth made for a quiet and sedate neighborhood, where the residents tended to be executives of the old B&O Railroad or sets of unmarried siblings. They were fervent churchgoers too, as reflected in the domes and steeples around here.

We'll see if the Hopkins students take to all the stuff that's being provided. It's been my observation that they tend to frequent the library more than the bars in these parts, but that could change; students from other schools could fill up the tables too.

The strip of little shops and restaurants in the 3100 block of St. Paul has been a tremendous amenity over the years, but its charms have not always rubbed off on my neighbors, who would prefer to shop at more distant locations.

At the same time, college and private school growth has been one of the more amazing phenomena of North Baltimore in the last 30 years. It's a common sight to see a car displaying a decal from schools along the Roland Avenue-Charles Street corridor.

It has always amazed me that more stylish businesses have not landed in North Baltimore, whose toney neighborhoods of Guilford and Roland Park seem to make do on little more than a few grocery stores, a carryout here and there, and perhaps the odd bank branch. Is it time we start planning for a Crate and Barrel?

In the Govans-Homeland area, the city government seemed to have enacted a special law just to get Belvedere Square back on its feet. The lesson that Belvedere Square teaches is that we're ready for a lot more city shopping -- and that it's not necessary to drive 10 miles to accomplish it.

I fervently believe that as one city neighborhood prospers, it helps those nearby. So, as 33rd and St. Paul undergoes its transformation this spring-summer building season, maybe it's time to schedule a similar rebirth for its counterpart on North Avenue near Penn Station.

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