After walking the byways of Remington, I agreed with my guide, a builder named Roy Skeen, who told me, "This is a neighborhood of nooks and crannies."
While most people sail though the North Baltimore community as they leave or enter the Jones Falls Expressway on 28th and 29th streets, he and others have put down roots alongside established residents.
It's also a neighborhood making a strong comeback in terms of housing renovation and cleanliness. Residents are vigilant in their surveillance of the numerous auto repair shops and other businesses that flourished when this was a battered, light industrial-residential neighborhood.
It was a neighborhood where auto tires were openly sold on corners. Now the Single Carrot Theater is going into one of those spaces. The Woodberry Kitchen will open an operation in a former commercial garage at 26th and Howard streets.
Skeen, a 2000 graduate of the Gilman School who grew up near St. David's Church in Roland Park, said he discovered the neighborhood by accident. He attended a concert by Caleb Stein, who sang the praises of Remington. Skeen, 31, investigated and wound up buying a vacant house for $5,000 and renovating it.
As a self-described "green builder," he was attracted to the challenges of an old neighborhood where he could buy a house without a mortgage and use a "small loan" to renovate it. He seems to know and appreciate every tree, bush and urban vegetable garden in what to others would seem a hard-paved Remington.
He and his wife live in a 12-foot-wide rowhouse on Fox Street. The adjacent home is abandoned and is a reminder of the hard times that Remington is surpassing. He says when he arrived a few years ago, there were 45 vacant houses in Remington; now there are 11. Skeen describes the newcomers as "graphic designers, upholsterers, bike advocates, teachers, zoo workers and D.C. commuters," among others.
He is a troubadour praising Remington's nooks, such as the batch of little houses called Tuxedo Street, where neighbors project movies on a wall and watch from their porches and the street. This is indeed a green place, or at least a place where residents take city farm to table seriously. I saw rabbit hutches and fully stocked chicken coops.
Residents tell me they have been encouraged by the commitment of a developer, Seawall Development, whose construction workers have transformed a pair of homes on West Lorraine Avenue and in the 2800 block of Remington, a block historically known as Remington Row. These three-story homes are getting new steel staircases with treads of reused timber. They are also getting a thorough rebuilding with contemporary interiors.
"Remington had been an ignored neighborhood in terms of sanitation. It was once also crime-ridden," said Bill Cunningham, who lives at 27th and Sisson streets in a former bar that became a political club. "But it's a safe neighborhood now. And it's way cleaner, too."
Cunningham, a former city firefighter who became a Sears security manager, is something of a veteran of housing rehabilitation. He bought houses in Locust Point in the early 1990s and was attracted to Remington in 2000. His first purchases were in the neighborhood's lower tier, a section he calls Remington's "Little Italy." At 23rd and Fawcett streets, it is another of Remington's hidden assets, tucked in around the CSX Belt Line train tracks. Many families of Italian descent whose members worked in the roofing industry and for the railroad lived there.
"Just as Struever Brothers made a change in Locust Point, Seawall is doing it here," Cunningham said of developer Bill Struever's role in bringing homes to Locust Point, as well as his repurposing of the old Procter and Gamble factory as Tide Point.
"The change that has happened in Remington is awesome," said Judith Kunst, who moved to West 27th Street with her daughter. "Some people had warned me this was not a safe neighborhood for a single woman. But I went door to door and talked to people who actually live here. They told me that Remington was the nicest place they had ever lived. That was my deciding factor. They were so right."