Walking distance from the Inner Harbor, this artsy community has had its ups and downs.
Home sweet home:
These colorful rowhouses are on Hollins Street in SoWeBo. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
Shelter the spring:
It may look like this pavilion just holds a drinking fountain, but it actually features a spring. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
At the center of the Union Square district is Union Square Park, a picturesque site with a Victorian-style fountain, curving walkways, large trees and a gazebo-like structure built over a spring which formerly supplied water to the B & O Railroad. John Donnell's sons approved the city's plan for the park in 1847, and most of the houses bordering it were built between 1850 and 1870. Some of Baltimore's wealthiest citizens lived on the Stricker Street side of the park, which earned it the nickname "Millionaires' Row."
Although it used to be a museum, the H. L. Mencken House is currently vacant. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
The center of the Hollins Market district is the market itself. It is the oldest continuously operating public market in Baltimore. Named for the Hollins family, who owned large tracts of land in West Baltimore and whose members included many important figures in the city during the 19th century, Hollins Market opened in 1835. Its current structure, a brick Italian-style building, was erected between 1863 and 1864, at the height of the Civil War. Interestingly, during this time, the City Council refused to consider any bid for construction from parties who were not "known to be thoroughly and unconditionally Union men."
The B&O Railroad Museum holds antique steam engines and hosts programs throughout the year. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
Each year, the neighborhood holds two large-scale events of a radically different nature: the Union Square Christmas Cookie Tour and the SoWeBohemian Festival. Selected homes, decorated for the holidays and set out with the owners' favorite cookies, are featured at the Cookie Tour, which takes place the second Sunday of December. By contrast, the SoWeBohemian Festival, which began in 1985 and takes place the last Sunday in May, features alternative music, poetry readings and art exhibits. In addition, the Lithuanian Hall on Hollins Street serves dinner to the public every Friday, and during the summer Minion screens family-friendly free movies in the park every other Friday.
Anthony Corradetti attends to a customer at his studio and gallery. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
Next to Corradetti's studio is a building that is in the process of becoming the permanent headquarters of the Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, founded in 1980 by Michael Lamason. The group performs with marionettes and uses shadow, hand, light and rod puppets in shows ranging from traditional children's stories like "Hansel and Gretel" to unusual, adult-oriented shows with titles like "Creation Circus" and "Requiem for a Landfill." Ultimately, the building will contain a 50-seat theater as well as studios, offices, a resource center and possibly even a coffeehouse. Black Cherry purchased the building in 1997, groundbreaking occurred in April 2000, and Lamason says at present the renovation is about two-thirds complete. However, because approximately $200,000 still needs to be raised before the building can be completed, he can't say for sure when it will open. "Every year I say, 'Next year.'"
Have a seat:
The patrons of Patrick's of Pratt Street are all smiles. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
However, SoWeBo residents are hopeful about the future of the neighborhood and many are actively working to improve the quality of life there. For example, art gallery owner Bill Adler, another long-term resident of the area who has been prominently involved with the SoWeBo Festival, is currently renovating the Turnbull Mansion, one of the largest buildings in Union Square, with the aim of moving the gallery there. In the fall of 2001, a large group of neighborhood artists banded together to compete with several other Baltimore neighborhoods for a grant that would designate the area a cultural arts district. Although the grant was ultimately awarded to another neighborhood, Rahl believes some good was accomplished simply by applying for it. "There was an immense amount of cooperation in putting it together. ... It was an excellent effort; it was a real bridge-builder and a real eye-opener."