"It was a terrific place to grow up," remembered Barry Levinson, film director and resident of Forest Park from 1948 to 1963.
"We had everything we needed for day-to-day living within a few blocks; we never had to drive anywhere. There were three movie theaters within walking distance, the Ambassador and the Gwynn at Gwynn Oak Junction and the Forest at Liberty and Garrison."
Traditional neighborhoods such as Forest Park are starting to attract buyers because of the very qualities that made the community special for Levinson.
"More people are buying single-family houses and rehabbing them," said Ernest Gayles, a resident and Realtor with ERA-Caton Realty in Ellicott City.
"They know they can get a spacious, well-built, single-family detached house that's close to everything for an extremely affordable price."
Prices range from the low $40,000 range for a two-story Craftsman-like cottage up to the low $100,000s for a six-bedroom, three-story house like the one on Springdale Avenue in which Levinson grew up.
"If you took pictures of some of the best houses in Forest Park, then shuffled them together with pictures of homes in Homeland and some other neighborhoods, you couldn't tell the difference," said Joseph Henley Sr., president of the Forest Park Neighborhood Association.
Henley concurs that the neighborhood is in a convenient location, being but a few minutes from Baltimore City Community College and Mondawmin Mall, and along two main bus routes to downtown.
Downtown seemed far away to Levinson when he was a boy. "When I was shooting 'Liberty Heights' last fall, out of curiosity I measured the distance from downtown to my home; it was just 6 1/2 miles," he said with a laugh.
From the 1960s to the late 1990s, Forest Park went into a decline. Many of the large homes were sold to developers who divided them up for apartments.
"That's pretty much stopped," according to Gayles, who moved into the neighborhood in 1957. But Henley says some owners still try to get by zoning regulations that prohibit such conversions.
"There's always a problem with the properties owned by absentee landlords," Henley said. "They don't keep them up." A typical block in Forest Park has neat, well-kept homes, many of which may sit alongside a property that's boarded up or overrun with weeds.
Henley and the neighborhood association want to come up with a long-range plan to physically upgrade Forest Park. One of Henley's ideas is to develop a relationship with Morgan State University's school of architecture to assist with ideas to improve landscaping and exterior renovations.
"We're going to be a test tube case for turning a neighborhood around," he added.
The neighborhood has been successful in getting the city to demolish abandoned homes. Henley hopes to see developers build on those empty lots. There has been some new building recently; three new houses have gone up on Powhatan Avenue across from Lake Ashburton.
The shopping district at Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard is also due for improvement.
Pending approval from the City Council, a new red brick Walgreen drugstore is scheduled to be built in the 3800 block of Liberty Heights Avenue, said Michael Johnson, the Department of Housing and Community Development's business assistance coordinator for the area.
"There's also a plan to upgrade the facades of the businesses." he added.
Where the memories oughta be in pictures
Filmmaker's old home, Forest Park continues to attract a nice crowd
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