Work crews began demolishing 67 houses Friday morning on an East Baltimore block that once was targeted for luxury rowhouses but now has "the highest concentration of blight in the city," according to city officials.
About 10 a.m., Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake took the controls of an excavator owned by P&J Contracting Co. and made the first swipes at the façade of 1979 Perlman Place, at the corner of Sinclair Lane. As a P&J employee sprayed the collapsing building with a high-powered hose to to water down dust, the home's walls and floors collapsed inward.
Michael Braverman, a Baltimore housing official, said the goal was to bring the properties down safely and minimize the billowing dust clouds that had begun to drift, just a few minutes after demolition began, toward Baltimore Rising Star Academy, the middle school just across Sinclair Lane.
Speaking before the work started, Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said the street would be far safer for the students at the school with the vacant houses demolished. "The thought that the kids [who attend Rising Star are] coming up and down this street is one that really scares me. I'll sleep a lot better knowing this is down."
The mayor called the houses on the block "a haven for criminal activity" that "grips the community" and pledged that more vacant blocks would be demolished under her watch.
Angela Epps, an administrative assistant at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City who lives around the corner from the demolition site, said the experience was "bittersweet," because she remembers the community as a lively and welcoming place before she left in 1982 to join the military. When she returned in 1993, she said with tears in her eyes, the vacant houses had made it into a "hazardous death trap."
"We always tell our children that our environment doesn't have to dictate our character, that our character can dictate the environment," she told the assembled crowd. "This is just wonderful for me. Y'all don't know."
Perlman Place is a tiny street wedged between North Avenue and Sinclair Lane, just blocks from the American Brewery complex, a redevelopment project widely viewed as a success in the midst of a troubled neighborhood. The 1900 block of Perlman Place was once slated to be the site of an $18 million luxury rehabilitation plan.
In 2002, the city's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation designated the street a historic district at the behest of Charles T. Jeffries, a Baltimore developer. He hoped to use historic tax credits to renovate the homes there with hardwood floors, modern appliances and roof decks, and sell them to investors.
But Jeffries renovated only two of the 190 homes he proposed rehabbing. In March, the city's housing department concluded that Jeffries had never had the funds to carry out his plan, and gained permission from the preservation commission to demolish homes on the block.
Jeffries could not be reached for comment.