The vacant lot off North Fulton Avenue in Sandtown-Winchester was like many in the city -- a dumping ground for discarded bricks, concrete, paper and wire. A neighborhood junkyard.
That was before community activists in the West Baltimore neighborhood hatched an idea: Why not, they asked, convert the eyesore into a park, a place where young and old could barbecue, celebrate birthdays or simply enjoy a rare patch of green?
Yesterday, that vision took shape as about 100 volunteers set about to transform the lot into the Bruce Street Park, named after the alley that runs alongside the property.
Arriving at 8 a.m. and working into the afternoon, people from inside and outside the community spread mulch and topsoil, planted flowers and trees, and set up steel picnic tables that will be bolted to concrete footings set several feet into the ground.
"There is no area around here that has a park-like setting where people can come and sit down and enjoy themselves," said Charles Johnson, Sandtown Habitat Homeowners Association chairman.
Young children dragged shovels that were longer than they were tall and triple-teamed wheelbarrows that teetered toward their destination. Older folks did the heavy work of digging tree holes and setting tabletops on their foundations.
Last spring, neighborhood groups gained use of the land through Baltimore's Adopt a Lot program, which allows residents to beautify vacant city-owned parcels. The city retains ownership but issues one-year permits that can be renewed.
Yesterday's army of volunteers was augmented by several companies and nonprofit groups, which donated outdoor furniture, landscaping materials, design work and heavy equipment. Among them were Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse; the Enterprise Foundation; Parks and People; and Neighborhood Design Center.
Many students with Habitat for Humanity also descended on the parcel.
The Bruce Street project was one of 11 beautification efforts taking place across the city as part of James W. Rouse Day. The annual event celebrates the memory of the real estate developer who created Harborplace and Columbia and, through his Enterprise Foundation, built affordable housing in Sandtown.
Since the 1980s, the redevelopment of some downtrodden blocks has injected a spirit of hope into Sandtown. But the neighborhood remains crime-ridden and poor, with high rates of crime and drug addiction.
But yesterday was about hope.
"It's even better than I even imagined," said Antoine Bennett, director of Eden Jobs, a training program on Fulton Avenue.
Johnson, whose house is next to the lot, said neighborhood residents will have to weed and mow the land, and he will maintain the garden equipment and keep a close eye on the park's condition. The park will be closed from dusk to dawn, and residents are being alerted to call 911 when they see violators.
Activists have also petitioned the city to donate the land to them, protecting it from buyers who would have the right to erase what yesterday accomplished.
"To some people, it may not look like much," said Roosevelt Boone, a member of the Resident Action Committee. "But to us, it means a great deal."