Old Goucher boasts diversity in residents and businesses

Vacant houses getting new life

A 25th Street insurance agent, Ken Abrams, got to the heart of what makes his neighborhood stand out. "There is a lot of diversity in the Old Goucher neighborhood. and we are proud of it," he said. "But this feature is not as well known as it should be."

Old Goucher sits between Charles Village and Station North. It draws its name from the old Goucher College campus with its inventory of ex-academic buildings, those big gray stone teaching halls and red-brick dormitories mixed in among blocks of Baltimore's iconic rowhouses.

Abrams sees Old Goucher as a successful example of a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood. It is also one of the more commercially mixed areas, peppered with small businesses, artists' studios and artisans. Not so long ago, it was the center of Baltimore's advertising agencies. If New York had a Madison Avenue, Baltimore had the upper Charles Street design district 30 years ago.

Abrams feels it's time to start marketing the blocks of midtown Baltimore. He'd like to see better signs announce his neighborhood, which he feels has emerged from a long sleep. His group has also established a plan to make it a "vital link" between North Baltimore and downtown neighborhoods.

So what awakened the place? Is it the recent announcement that Telesis Corp. would be renovating vacant houses in and around Calvert and 22nd streets? Is it a mini-development of three new homes that have risen on 22nd Street near Charles? Is it the children spilling out of old Goucher Hall, now the home of the Baltimore Lab School?

Could it be the investment by the Maryland Institute College of Art in its Graduate Student Center on North Avenue? Could it be the hope that breaks out when a vacant, moribund property reopens and is put back in good working shape?

Catherine Stokes of Telesis Corp. said that the houses her group renovated along Calvert Street have all sold. More are now being renovated along Guilford Avenue.

"Old Goucher is really changing," she said. "I see it in the people using the Calvert Street park. I see it in the soccer games being played there. I see people who may have been dubious about the neighborhood fixing up their homes' facades, too. Both renters and homeowners are being more engaged in the neighborhood and are becoming ambassadors for it."

She also sees another good sign. "There are places where houses were vacant for 30 years," she said. "But once fixed and occupied, people forget about that time."

Abrams heads the Old Goucher Business Alliance. He acts on behalf of the law offices, hair salons, banks, design and advertising firms, restaurants and schools that dot Maryland Avenue, and Charles, St. Paul and Calvert streets.

"Things have definitely gotten better here," he said. "There is a strong partnership between public and private entities."

He sees the neighborhood as an incubator for both small businesses and homebuyers because of its relative affordability.

"There's not a lot of glitter here but there is a lot of substance," he said. "A lot of people work here. I can see it in my own business."

While the neighborhood is known as Old Goucher to some, to a resident hairstylist like John Marquis the area is known as "salon row" because of the concentration of beauty shops.

Marquis, who is at St. Paul Street's Style Lab (a rowhouse across the street from the former Girls' Latin School, now New Antioch Church), says this hair haven "just manifested itself."

He also credits the low rents of the old 1890s townhouses, whose large front parlors were long converted into business uses.

"There's a lot of options here," he said. "There is a high level of creativity, too, among all the competition."

Abrams said, "For years certain parts of the city were neglected. Today we have to look at changes and see the glass as now being half-full. We have to look beyond the harbor."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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