Old Charles Village Buildings Get A Worthy New Lease On Life

July 04, 2009|By JACQUES KELLY

My curiosity led me to walk a few blocks from my front door and ask just what was happening at the old Federal Land Bank building on St. Paul Street. This elegant 1923 limestone structure, vacant for years, was obviously being thoroughly renovated, but there was no posted notice giving details or a completion date. I knew of no media hype about it, either.

I found an opening in a construction fence at 24th Street, sidestepped piles of bathroom tiles and other construction materials and supply bins, and asked the workers. I was told there would be 63 residential units known as the Land Bank Apartments.

Satisfied with an answer, I kept walking around this area, what is called the Old Goucher section of greater Charles Village, in search of other clues. For years, I enjoyed dinners of the mixed lamb chop grill platter at the old Hollander's restaurant on 25th Street. It closed 25 years ago and was replaced by a video rental store, which also closed, going the way of changing technology. I'd heard a rumor the site would become a bank, and when I saw the PNC automated teller machines, I knew the reports were true.

On this morning, it occurred that a kind of stealthy, steady transformation of the neighborhood is pretty well along, perhaps more evident on St. Paul Street than on Charles. A new bank and a new apartment house join the renovated Astor Court building at 25th and St. Paul, as well as a popular Safeway store at the old Chesapeake Cadillac and public schools headquarters sites. At least three restaurants have opened, too - Terra Cafe, Yabba Pot and M&J's Soul Food.

Now it would be nice and convenient if the old Playhouse movie theater on 25th Street would reopen, but I'm not holding my breath on this one. I think that Baltimore's hidden strength is its ability to make do with what we have here, often quietly, without fanfare, building by building, block by block. And story by story.

I've been watching the continuing transformation of Mary Schaub's house at the southwest corner of St. Paul and 22nd streets, just across from the Lovely Lane United Methodist Church and not so far from the Land Bank Apartments.

Mary was once a familiar community figure, the kind of person who imparted character to the neighborhood. She wore her high-heeled shoes, and often a mink stole, as she departed via the bus most days to sell tickets at the racetrack. Her father, Joe, had acquired quite a bit of rowhouse property, and she inherited one of his houses.

She died last year at age 83. In the later years of her life, she had become a confirmed cat lady, housing far too many feline friends in her enormous corner house. She also was an obsessive collector. I recall tossing a handful of old magazines in a city rubbish bin, and within minutes Mary was stretching over the metal container, pulling them out.

Mary's house became a neighborhood concern because of the smells and health issues associated with her cat colony. Its renovation would be a daunting assignment. Who would have guessed that it is, in fact, being enlarged - and is being given a new life as an assisted-living residence?

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