With New Traffic, Change Swept Through Bolton Hill Of The 1930s

June 21, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY

It all began when a reader who lives on John Street in Bolton Hill wanted to learn the circumstances of the city's 1930s plan to extend Howard Street through his neighborhood via a route that includes the familiar hump-back bridge over the Jones Falls Expressway.

I dug out old photographs and consulted maps because this part of Baltimore - the edge of Bolton Hill, and the general locale of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Lyric and Mount Royal Station - is one of the city's more altered districts.

In the 1920s, the Howard Street department store owners were complaining that their retail bazaars were hard to reach from North Baltimore. They badgered the city fathers to build a bridge over the Jones Falls Valley and link Howard Street with North Avenue, and interconnecting streets there.

While some homes and businesses had to be torn down near the 5th Regiment Armory and Mount Royal Station, the sliced-through route proved a great success to the movement of traffic. Electric buses, called trackless trolleys in Baltimore, even worked the new and improved Howard Street route.

While consulting some old photos, I was reminded how many schools stood here. There's the Maryland Institute College of Art - and buildings that one day would become the University of Baltimore's campus. (In a 1922 aerial photo, today's UB Bolton Yard parking lot was then a busy freight rail yard.) There was a coal depot at Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street, which is today a post office truck maintenance facility.

There's also the Bryn Mawr School on Cathedral Street, as well as the old University School for Boys, known as Marston's School. Its fancy digs became Public School No. 49, the school for the smart students. Its proper name was the Robert E. Lee School and the building remains today as home of the State Medical Society. There was also a Lafayette School at Park Avenue and Hoffman Street.

The school that gave me a locational headache was the old Boys' Latin School on Brevard Street. Brevard has nearly disappeared except for a small section of it in upper Bolton Hill. The city's urban-renewal czars annihilated its presence along the side of Mount Royal Station in the early 1960s. They called their efforts Mount Royal Plaza.

Boys' Latin relocated to its present home on Lake Avenue in 1960. I was then 10 and riding the same transit bus as BL students who were amazed at the new and fairly countrified location. Brevard Street was a very urban address. Its brick Brevard Street schoolhouse and gym were soon plowed down - and if I am correct, would sit at about the west wall of the Meyerhoff Hall.

My old map book told me the school sat nearly atop the Howard Street Tunnel, the underground rail tube that makes the news when something goes wrong with it. The building that adjoined Boys' Latin was an electric power station for the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. My guess is that this building's generators supplied the juice used in the third-rail system to help boost heavy trains over Baltimore's terrain. It's a long, hard pull up the hills of Baltimore. I hear the engines groaning every night.



Find Jacques Kelly's recent columns at baltimoresun.com/kelly

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