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Near harbor, an enclave of tree-lined quiet

Special to The Sun

Riverside Park does not lie along the banks of a river, but it's close enough to warrant the picturesque name.

Technically speaking, this quaint neighborhood is not considered part of Federal Hill, nor does it exactly belong to Locust Point. Still, comfortably situated under the watchful night illumination of the neon Domino Sugar sign that dominates the southern shore of the Patapsco River, it is a delightful enclave in the revitalized and historic area that is South Baltimore.

Riverside Park, an easy five-minute drive from the bustling Inner Harbor, is roughly bounded on the north by Fort Avenue, on the west by Light and Hanover streets and on the east by Key Highway. Its southern end for all practical purposes is Leone Riverside Park, which gives the neighborhood a pastoral patch of land.

Running through the heart of the area is Riverside Avenue, a gent- ly snaking north-south street. It is the only street in Baltimore that begins and ends at parks: Federal Hill and Leone Riverside.

The wide streets are tree-lined, shading red brick townhouses that date to the 1890s. Many facades are Formstone, the multipatterned, stucco overlay that took the city by storm in the 1940s. Two and three stories high, most of the homes lack front porches but are adorned with marble steps and wrought-iron handrails.

Lifelong resident

Rita Eckhardt is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. She and her husband are about to celebrate 50 years at their house on Henry Street.

The street, with parking at a premium, is unusually quiet, given that it is a block off Fort Avenue.

Fort Avenue, the main thoroughfare of this peninsula, includes the business district and an approach to Interstate 95, and ends at Fort McHenry.

The Eckhardt home, approximately 16 feet wide, is typical of city townhouses. The home is brighter than most because of what Eckhardt calls an "airy way," a small, alleylike space between it and the house next door, allowing for windows on the north side.

The surroundings are comfortable. Eckhardt's possessions reflect 50 years of collecting. With a mortgage that has been paid off for nearly 40 years, she and her husband, Pete, have no illusions about skyrocketing property values.

"We would never move unless one of us [dies]," she said emphatically. "And we're not going to put money into [cosmetic improvements] when the first thing a new owner will do is put a Dumpster out front and get rid of everything, anyway. What's the use of bothering at our age?"\

Empty nests

The Eckhardts choose instead to travel, having enjoyed many cruises over the years, and they are always planning their next trip. They are fairly typical of many longtime Riverside Park residents who have raised children and are left with empty nests and memories.

"The young people moving in want to live in the city and see [the homes] as an investment property," she said.

Young professionals are drawn by the excitement and diversity of downtown living, coupled with being near the water in a historic area. The Inner Harbor boom and the adaptive reuse of nearby factories -- such as the old Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble plants -- into high-tech, corporate space are also attractions.

Dan Cunningham, a real estate agent in the Federal Hill office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said the three-story townhouses directly on the park typically command the highest prices.

When Rita Eckhardt learned that the asking price for a house on Randall Street was $200,000, she laughed despite her shock.

"I lived in that house before moving here," she said.

The Eckhardts enjoy being able to walk just about everywhere, keeping two old cars only to ensure their independence. They can walk to Fort McHenry, stroll around the park and shop the markets. Younger residents take advantage of the park's pool for their children and of the proximity of the local elementary, middle and senior high schools.

Settled primarily by German and Irish immigrants, Riverside Park reflects that heritage in its parishes of Holy Cross and St. Mary Star of the Sea.

With a growing number of white-collar professionals calling the Inner Harbor area home, residents share in the pride of homeownership and the neighborly, small-town feel.

"People are paying as much as $150,000 for shells if the location is right," Cunningham said. "Everything imaginable that a city offers is at your disposal."


Riverside Park

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 5 minutes

Public schools: Thomas Johnson Elementary; Francis Scott Key Middle; Southern High

Shopping: Federal Hill Shopping District; Cross Street Market; South Side Market Place; Inner Harbor

ZIP code: 21230

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