A mural appears on Barclay Street. (Patrick Smith 2012, Baltimore…)
While chatting with a neighbor this week, I learned she was planning to move to the 2200 block of Guilford Ave. She earned my respect for her decision to move to one of the newly renovated North Calvert Green homes, the sales name for fine 1890s rowhouses that have been made energy-efficient and renovated to the standard of the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
I have long thought that the most effective way to save a neighborhood is to settle there and make a difference. Baltimore's developing neighborhoods need new residents. They also need the full focus and attention of City Hall to protect the investments now being made. This is a convenient, promising neighborhood with strong ties to the city's history.
For decades I have been watching the Barclay and Old Goucher neighborhoods. As a child, I observed the white flight that happened to what we thought of as St. Ann's Parish, the Roman Catholic church whose bell tower has a ship's anchor, the Christian symbol of hope. (The anchor belonged to a Baltimore sea captain who survived a Gulf of Mexico storm and promised to build a church if he survived.)
When the archdiocese discussed closing the church, its congregation fought back. St. Ann's remained open, then donors and others took another bold step. Benefactors, including Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, gave the funds to renovate the long-closed parochial school and open it as the Mother Seton Academy. Talk about confidence-building. What is better than the sight of dozens of uniformed students arriving and departing each school day?
Over the past few weeks, earth-moving equipment has arrived at Greenmount Avenue and 21st Street to begin the start of another bold venture for Barclay: the construction of a section of rental homes. Keep your eye open for much more construction and rehabilitation in Barclay.
Now for the depressing news. Greenmount Avenue and Barclay Street still see a disproportionate amount of violent crime. A 2007 Baltimore Sun article was headlined, "Turnaround elusive for gritty Greenmount." Earlier this month, a Sun article observed that the "increase in homicides in Baltimore last year came largely in the Eastern and Northwestern police districts, where there had been notable decreases in 2011, as well as from an uptick in the Northern District. Ten people were killed in the Harwood-Better Waverly-Barclay area alone, between the Northern and Eastern districts near Greenmount Avenue."
I am not minimizing this. A few months ago, I spent a Saturday evening with friends at a 21st Street home. When we were leaving to go home, a friend opened the front door and heard a bullet go by. The next day's paper contained an account of a shooting at the filling station at Charles and 21st streets.
For years I have met with Michael Mazepink of the People's Homesteading Group. He has worked in Barclay for years, rebuilding this neighborhood house by house. He led me through a house on East 22nd Street. His restoration was so excellent, I asked naively just how much of the house needed repair.
I was not prepared for his answer. Only the front wall remained from the original structure. His reconstruction was so exacting I had thought this was just a well-preserved 1890s house.
He, too, will not give up and is now working to keep jobs in the neighborhood by having East Baltimore residents do demolition work for parts of this spring's initiative in Barclay. He's talking to architectural restorers to replace gingerbread-style balconies on other 22nd Street homes.
I am also encouraged by people such as Grace Willis, who keeps a beautiful home and garden at Barclay and 22nd. There are many others like her who want to build a strong neighborhood.
For years, the chances of a Barclay comeback seemed bleak. Many parties are now taking a stand here: concerned residents, developers, the city's housing department and others, including home buyers who want to live in an old Baltimore neighborhood. You have to start somewhere to turn a neighborhood around, and this winter, that place might just well be Greenmount and 21st.