Charles North Is Already More Than Just A Vision

November 01, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Doreen Bolger, my Charles Village neighbor, invited me to join her at the Single Carrot Theatre, one of the cultural arrivals along North Avenue. The place was new to me, and it was time to learn what's going on in the slow but steady rebirth of Penn Station's environs.

There were many familiar faces in the 40-seat theater, people who, like myself, had not caught up with all that was happening in the former commercial neighborhood between Mount Vernon and Charles Village. I say "former" because North Avenue is showing tangible signs of changing from the dreary place it's been most of my adult life.

This theater troupe, which chose to move to Baltimore, has created a little playhouse near North and Howard in what had been Lombard Office Supply; decades ago, it was a Graham Paige auto dealership. There is also a spacious and well-lighted art gallery adjoining it and numerous studios in other parts of the cavernous building.

Last Saturday night, after an excellent performance of Food for Fish, I looked across North Avenue and thought to myself: "It's happened. The street is no longer a place where not much happens, a setting for lonely people in an Edward Hopper painting."

It's time to readjust perceptions.

This week, the Charles North Vision Plan was unveiled; as someone who lives nearby and knows how convenient the place is, the idea of 1,900 new residences is appealing. It's a good thing that the city wants to see what had been a dynamic part of Baltimore revived.

It was 30 years ago that I wrote a column about the fate of the old Parkway Theater (5 W. North Ave.), then recently closed after a long run as the spot where I saw some of my favorite films of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Parkway, though closed for three decades, has been largely preserved. It makes my list as just about the last of Baltimore's great treasures to deserve a makeover now that the glorious American Brewery on Gay Street is quickly returning from a long hiatus. If you thought the Hippodrome has an amazing interior, wait until the Parkway shows its stuff.

Is this arts district already more established than most people think? Probably, despite the presence of many vacant structures and buildings.

I considered how many happy evenings I've spent at Joe Squared Pizza (133 W. North Ave.) and recalled meeting its owner, Joseph Edwardsen, the day he told me he was opening a restaurant at North and Howard. I thought he could lose his shirt. He opened in November 2005, and he's not looking back.

And what about all the plays at Everyman Theatre, movies at the Charles, sangria interludes at Tapas Teatro and drinks at the Windup Space, a bar in the North Avenue Market building? I've even been shopping for a picture frame at the new art supply store in an old brick building that once housed the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad offices.

So by the end of Saturday evening, after the Single Carrot performance, I felt so encouraged that I walked home, popped into a bar along the way for a nightcap and anticipated the next show on North Avenue. Maybe in a year I'll be seeing some attraction at the Parkway.

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