Troublesome Pall Mall Apartments come down

November 21, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

They all had stories about The Ranch.

Several former residents and neighbors watched the demolition yesterday of the Pall Mall Apartments, nicknamed "The Ranch," and recalled life at the Park Heights complex: the stench of marijuana that pervaded the halls daily, a gang fight where a dozen men beat one man nearly to death, a shootout in the parking lot and the abandoned apartments that housed several makeshift drug factories.

Drug dealers "ruled the hallways. You had to go in there holding your nose because the marijuana was so strong," said Viola Bell, who worked at a church on the same block as the apartments and often escorted children after school through the complex. "I saw it all."

It left Bell and others not at all wistful as Mayor Sheila Dixon helped topple the building's facade, sending brick and other debris scattering.

The city bought Pall Mall, at 4300 Pimlico Road, with a $30,100 bid at an auction in October 2007, calling the place a drug nuisance. In July 2005, the city revoked then-owner Allan S. Bird's multiple-family dwelling license for the complex.

After an appeal, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the city's decision. Six other similar properties, including Mosher Courts in West Baltimore, have been purchased by the city. Mosher Courts is set to be demolished Dec. 2.

In 2006, about 35 remaining Pall Mall residents were given Section 8 vouchers for other housing, and Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said the city helped in the relocations. The 31-unit complex has been empty since then. Graziano said the land will be redeveloped into mixed-income housing that includes affordable units.

Pall Mall's demotion is part of a greater city strategy to remake Park Heights. Dixon said the redevelopment of that complex will help transform the entire community.

"We stand here in an eyesore that had drugs, crime; every ill you could think of was housed in this building," she said. "But were there great people who lived in this building? Yes, there were."

And even some good times.

Daron McDaniel, who lives on a neighboring street, said he often played football with kids in the Pall Mall parking lot. Sometimes, McDaniel said, there were cookouts, music and other festivities in that lot during the 1980s, back when there was more of a sense of community.

But McDaniel said he isn't sad to see the building go. Although police are generally credited for nicknaming the complex "The Ranch," McDaniel said it was the residents who called it the "O.K. Corral" back in the late 1970s because of a high wooden fence that surrounded the complex. He said "The Ranch" was a takeoff of that.

"I've been here since the drugs started," McDaniel said. "This was the place where everybody from the east, south, north and west came. They called it the O.K. Corral because anybody could be dead on any given night. I've seen shootouts right here."

Deborah Wooford, a Park Heights community activist, lived in Pall Mall during the 1980s, and said neighbors took care of each other then.

She said a breed of drug dealers came of age in the 1990s, intimidating residents and openly dealing within the building.

"It was a family-oriented place but, unfortunately, the youth that grew up here turned into drug dealers," Wooford said. "They only were piggy-backing off of what was going on in [the neighborhood]. The youth saw an opportunity."

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