A stretch of apple trees planted in the median of Callaway Avenue in Northwest Baltimore has become a rallying point for a neighborhood looking for recognition.
Residents spent their spring weekends tending to their own orchard, which is now bearing small apples. In the process, they want to show themselves, and others, that Callaway-Garrison is a terrific neighborhood.
The neighborhood, which borders Ashburton and Forest Park, is a green and grassy residential area developed in the early 20th century. It's a place of big trees and wrap-around porches where homes sit on generous lots. Once served by Liberty Heights and Garrison Boulevard trolleys, the neighborhood is a classic streetcar suburb.
Today it's an aging neighborhood facing some challenges. Its potential is now being championed by the newly energized Callaway-Garrison Improvement Association, a group recently rebounding after a period of hibernation. They want it known that their neighborhood has delightful homes for sale from $50,000 to $250,000 — and that bargains are to be had. They see it as a place for growing families and artists needing studio space.
"People are eager to help here," said Hiawatha Howard, a retired Verizon engineering department worker and visual artist. "They are willing to stay put and work rather than to run away from a problem."
I spoke with Alonzo LaMont Jr., a communications specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Welch Medical Library and a playwright, who returned to his childhood home on Belle Avenue six years ago. It's a home his late father, a postal worker, aspired to own. In 1961, the elder LaMont moved his African-American family here from a Winchester Street rowhouse, where grass and trees were scarce, to what was then a mostly white neighborhood.
And about 25 years ago, the elder LaMont planted those apple trees on Callaway Avenue. Now his son is taking up their cause.
"Like any sustainable orchard, this could not have happened overnight," said LaMont, who has had his plays staged in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. "We began caring for these trees with only a few volunteers. Neighborhood participation has steadily increased over the past inaugural year of our orchard care."
He said they have used community meetings to rally participation. They've recruited volunteers and distributed fliers.
Jeannie Howe, another neighborhood resident who is director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, discovered a group called Baltimore Orchard Project and enrolled in one of its programs, the Fruit and Nut Tree Academy. She visited the Cylburn Arboretum and the Baltimore Free Farm in the Jones Falls Valley.
"As communities, we saw ourselves as islands and didn't think about a connecting point," she said. "The orchard just kind of changed the way we think about one another. The trees make a visible impact on the neighborhood itself."
As president of the Callaway-Garrison Improvement Association, LaMont said the trees have become an issue that has strengthened and unified his group.
"Even as we talk in the association about the trees, it feels as if everybody else has started to walk through that same door of understanding," he said.
Callaway-Garrison partnered with the Orchard Project and plans to plant another 20 trees in the median this fall. Last fall's harvest netted 100 pounds of fruit, which was donated to Baltimore charities that feed the poor.
"The opportunity to feed people is really great," Howe said. "But the fact of being visible, picking up trash, pruning the trees — activating that space with people — is another big plus."
Residents feel that Callaway-Garrison is an under-recognized gem. They say that since their first reorganization meeting in late 2014, they have garnered the support of elected leaders and received better city services.
"Our goal has been to put our name out there," said Howard.