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Abell celebrates its centennial in style

The Abell Open Space is used for everything from a playground to summer movie nights. There was even a wedding once.

But June 18, the grassy community plot at 32nd Street and Abell Avenue held its biggest event, a gourmet dinner with dancing to celebrate the centennial of the nine-block community of 600 households and "painted lady" row houses, surrounded by Charles Village, Waverly and Oakenshawe.

"It's an important milestone to reach 100 years," said Miruna Patrascano, a 7-year resident and president of the Abell Improvement Association, which sponsored the outdoor gala.

About 200 guests partied the night away, starting with a cocktail hour. Many wore festive attire ranging from hippie outfits to box hats and white gloves; others simply wore shorts and overalls.

Some former residents came from as far away as Tennessee andMassachusetts.

The buffet dinner was a glorified potluck. Many residents served hors d'ouevres and made the appetizers and entrees, including grilled eggplant rolls with mozzarella and tomato vinaigrette, and roast beef with spiced fig chutney or garlic aioli.

Most of the ingredients came from the 32nd Street Farmers Market a block away — including the roast beef from Woolsey Farm in Harford County, a regular vendor at the farmers market.

Resident Shelly Treadway made the "Porchfront (gin) Punch."

Live music was also provided by Abell residents, such as Judith Geller and Michael Raitzyk, who didn't even have a name for their impromptu jazz act (she sang and he played guitar).

"Call us the Judith Geller-Michael Raitzyk Duo," Geller said, grinning.

"All of this is homegrown," Patrascano said.

Even commemorative postcards were locally produced, with art work by resident Bill Nelson and letterpress printing by Abell-based Baltimore Print Studios.

And a documentary video about the neighborhood, "The Abell Community, Celebrating 100 Colorful Years," which was shown on a big screen after dark, was made by Abell residents Jim and Janet Kahoe, who own Stonebridge Communications.

The video was longer than first envisioned.

"It started as 15 minutes and grew to an hour," Patrascano said.

The event also was a showcase for announcing the new Abell Centennial Scholarship program, which gave $100 each to four students from Barclay Elementary/Middle, a Baltimore City public school the community has taken under its wing over the years. Community leaders hope to make it annual event, Patrascano said.

Invited gala guests included former longtime Barclay principal Gertrude Williams, 83, and Ellie Mitchell, one of Williams' former students, all grown up and drinking a glass of wine.

For Williams, who retired in 1998 after 29 years, but still volunteers at Barclay, the gala was another chance to stay connected to the neighborhood.

"I never stopped being involved with the Abell community that was so good to the students and me. They did so much for the school, not only (raising) money, but they gave their time," said Williams, of Roland Park..

"The kids used to think she lived in the school," said Mitchell's mother, Jo Ann Robinson, former president of Barclay's PTO and a good friend of Williams.

For Mitchell, 36, of Columbia, who attended Barclay in the 1980s, the gala held special meaning as well.

"This is a community I grew up in and spent a lot of time in and still feel; very connected to," said Mitchell, who played in the community space as a child. On June 18, her own children were running around in the open space during the gala.

"It's great to see my kids play in the same place I did," said Mitchell, director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network, which promotes funding for after-school activities for children statewide.

Her mom, Robinson, who wore 1960s garb, including a tie-dye shirt and a headband, has lived in Abell since 1969 and is something of a community historian. She can tell you that:

• Abell was named for the founder of the Baltimore Sun, A.S Abell, who lived in nearby Guilford;

• that the first homes were built in 1911, on Abell Avenue;

• that in 1913, a man infamously murdered his sister-in-law as his wife and young son watched;

• that Baltimore's first Gay Pride parade was held on 31st Street;

• that a journal of women's liberation was published "up the street" in 1969, a time when Abell was home to many antiwar protesters and liberals, including Robinson.

But the neighborhood hasn't changed that much, said 71-year resident Bob Richmond, 80, who remembers when the street lamps were gas, the trees were sycamores and streetcars ran on 31st Street.

Today, residents extol the virtues of a diversified neighborhood with families, artists, young professionals, retirees and Johns Hopkins University students.

"We have a lot of small children, which is nice," said Friedrun Sullivan, 72, a retired language professor atAnne Arundel Community College.

The gala meant different things to different people.

"One hundred years — who cares? But it's just an opportunity (for the residents) to get together," Sullivan said.

"And it means you don't have to write off neighborhoods," said 17-year resident Jennifer D'Urso, who called herself "a newcomer" to Abell. "It's as vibrant as it was in 1911," said D'Urso, who works for Hopkins Press.

Sullivan said there was only one thing missing from the celebration of Abell's centennial — a centenarian.

"We need a 100-year-old," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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