Named for its two dominant old features, the Union Square-Hollins Market Historic District is known for the shady park across the street from H.L. Mencken's home as well as the oldest public market building in Baltimore that is still in use.

These days, the community, which lies less than a mile from Camden Yards and has easy access to major roads, is diverse ethnically, in age, by income and by occupation. Its wide streets are lined with brick homes of varying sizes dating mostly from the mid-to-late 1800s, many retaining original decorative architecture.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Union Square-Hollins Market Historic District lies in Southwest Baltimore (SoWeBo to those in the know). Roughly, the boundary streets are Schroeder to the east, Fulton to the west, Baltimore to the north and Pratt to the south.

Some would say it's really two neighborhoods, each with an active neighborhood association, packaged as one historic community: Union Square to the west with more lavish homes and few businesses, and Hollins Market, with narrower rowhouses and more neighborhood shops, and where the Hollins Roundhouse Association extends well past the historic district.

The historic district is a community in transition, where vacant houses are being restored and new restaurants are opening, said Union Square Association President Christopher Taylor, a real estate agent who has renovated several homes, including his own.

The most recent drawing cards: the University of Maryland's biotech park at the edge of the Historic District, nearby residences at Camden Crossing, and the Mount Clare Junction mixed-use center. Also nearby: the B&O Railroad Museum and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

"You have a heavy influx of young professionals, 34 and up, coming in. They have the additional expendable income," said Jerry Rosenbaum, owner of Ladies and Gents, a dry-cleaning store across the street from Hollins Market.

Annual events include the Union Square Cookie Tour, which will mark its 23rd year with the Dec. 14 home tour, and the Sowebohemian Arts Festival, about the same age, which takes place each spring by Hollins Market.

"Within five to 10 years, this area is going to be unbelievable," Taylor said.

Housing stock The variety of homes, some renovated with tax incentives and others in need of rehabbing, creates a broad price range. "There aren't very many places [close] in the city where you can find this value," said Carol Rose, an agent with Coldwell Banker's Federal Hill office, "and parking in front of the house."

Styles range from the grand Italianate houses on Union Square - some of which have 4,000 square feet of living space, inlaid wood floors and 12-foot ceilings - to 16-foot-wide rowhouses on deep lots.

Crime In recent years, parts of the community have struggled with drugs, vacancies, poverty and street violence. But active neighborhood groups, an influx of residents and anti-crime initiatives have helped ease those pressures.

Schools A number of schools serve the community. Among them are Stuart Hill Academic Academy, which includes elementary and middle grades, James McHenry Elementary and Diggs-Johnson Middle. They generally underperform the state averages, according to state test score averages. There is also the four-year-old Southwest Baltimore Charter School, founded by a community resident.

The Black Cherry Puppet Theater makes its home near Hollins Market; the neighborhood associations sponsor events for families, and organizations have after-school programs. Children can take part in city sports programs.

Shopping Around Hollins Market there are many stores. They include Umri Siki, an African mask and art gallery; and neighborhood conveniences, including hair salons and florists. Baltimore Street has a variety of small businesses, and more shopping within walking distance is at Mount Clare Junction.

Transportation Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, lies just past the eastern edge of the Historic District. Access to highways is quick. For convenient mass transit, MARC commuter trains have been a lure for D.C.-bound commuters, the light rail is less than a mile away and local buses go through the community.

Dining in At Hollins Market, vendors line the aisles in a throwback from supermarket shopping, and Chuckie's Fried Chicken regularly has a line for what's reputed to be the best fried chicken in the city. For more conventional food shopping, there's a Safeway in Mount Clare Junction.

Dining out Recommended local haunts include Zella's, a pizzeria/Italian restaurant, and Baltimore Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant, both of which opened in the past year, and Patrick's of Pratt, an Irish pub. CC's Grill & Cafe, featuring a Caribbean and American menu, is expected to open soon.

Nightlife There's not much, but many of the city's night spots, such as Fells Point and the Inner Harbor, aren't far.

Parks and recreation Union Square, a city block of greenery with paths in a wheel-spokes pattern, is graced by a gazebo, a fountain and lots of benches.

by the numbers
Neighborhood: Union Square-Hollins Market Historic District

ZIP code: 21223

Homes on the market: 77

Average sales price: * $114,208

Average days on the market: * 115

*Information based on sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Carol Rose of the Federal Hill office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and information from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.