A cultural crossroads in the city

The Charles Theatre is a mainstay of the Charles North neighborhood.
The Charles Theatre is a mainstay of the Charles North neighborhood. (Baltimore Sun photo by Monica Lopossay)
Within one square block of the Charles North neighborhood there is a gallery announcing a coming live painting; a spoken word exhibit; a theater staging a film noir comedy; and a bar where the staff is known to perform on a trapeze.

So it's no surprise that the neighborhood, an eclectic mix of galleries, brownstones and theaters near Penn Station, is drawing residents who enjoy art and entertainment.

"It's a lot of fun here," says Tim Reed, a 26-year-old resident and booster who was among the first tenants in the renovated Railway Express building. "It's quirky - a great Baltimore neighborhood."

Charles North is roughly bounded by Interstate 83 on the south, Hargrove Alley to the east, 22nd Street to the north, and Falls Road to the west. It is part of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

That designation comes with tax incentives for artists who produce and sell their work in galleries in the neighborhood.

The nearby Maryland Institute College of Art and several theaters, including the Charles Theatre and the Everyman Theatre, also influence Charles North's artistic reputation.

"It's really a happening place," says Andrew Kreinik, a Realtor with City Life Realty.

In October, city officials announced a goal of transforming the district into a $1 billion "cultural crossroads" for Baltimore. The plans include expanding Penn Station with a hotel and shopping arcade, building residential towers for college students and professionals, redeveloping of historic landmarks such as the Parkway Theater, North Avenue Market and former Chesapeake Restaurant building, and creating a park along the Jones Falls Valley.

"It builds on the momentum we have going," says David Beilenberg, executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment Inc.

Because of the current economic slump, it could take several years for the pace of the projects to pick up and for new construction to begin on vacant parcels, Beilenberg and others involved in the area's development say.But when it does, they say Charles North could be Baltimore's next hot neighborhood.

"This area just has to take off," says the Rev. Dale W. Dusman, a pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church and president of the Charles North Community Association. "There's a lot of potential."

Housing stock Large, Victorian rowhouses are typical of the Charles North neighborhood. Some have been divided into multiple units. The prices of houses currently on the market range from $149,000 to $510,000.

A four-story brownstone with four bedroom suites, four and a half bathrooms, Sub-zero stainless appliances, granite kitchen counters, a theater room, a Trex deck and two parking spaces is listed for $439,900.

An 1800 rowhouse with four-bedrooms and two bathrooms and parking that needs renovations is listed for $235,000.

The neighborhood also has rental properties, including Railway Express Lofts, a former parcel post office at 1501 St. Paul St. near Penn Station that was renovated into a $19 million apartment complex last year.

Rowhouses in the 1600 block of Latrobe St. have been rehabbed for artists to live and work in. Two of 11 are currently available for rent, or to rent with an option to buy. East-West Properties Inc. plans to renovate two other rowhouses as part of the project.

The Station North Townhome community, with both rental and for-sale properties, is just outside the Charles North boundaries on North Calvert Street.

Schools Baltimore's first public Montessori charter school opened at the former Mildred Monroe Elementary building in August. Students range in age from 3 to 9 years old. The school is full, with a waiting list.

Traditional public schools in the area include Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary, which has met Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, requirements, a tool used to track academic progress.

Students from the area also attend William C. March Middle School, formerly named Harford Heights Middle School, which has not met AYP goals. Families have a choice to send students to either W.E.B. Dubois or Reginald F. Lewis high schools, both of which meet AYP goals.

Crime Property crimes such as vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles make up the bulk of reported crime in the neighborhood, according to the most recent data from the city Police Department.

But violent crime lingers as a neighborhood concern. Of two incidents earlier this year at a nearby nightclub, one involved an assault and another was a stabbing.

The Midtown Community Benefits District is paying overtime for police officers to increase patrols in Charles North and several other neighborhoods.

Transportation Commuter and light rail trains stop at Penn Station. MTA buses run through the neighborhood, which is easily accessible to MLK Boulevard and I-83.

Shopping The nearest malls are The Gallery at Harborplace and Mondawmin Mall, where a Target opened in July. Shops in nearby Charles Village include a Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Dining In Residents grocery shop at Save-A-Lot, located at 20th Street and Maryland Avenue, or Safeway, located at 25th and North Charles streets. An Eddie's Market is also nearby.

Dining Out Area restaurants include Sofi's Crepes, Joe Squared, Tapas Teatro, Caribbean Paradise and Station North Underground Cafe.

Nightlife The neighborhood has a mix of theaters, art galleries with performance spaces, bars and dance clubs. Some of the hot spots are the Charles Theatre, Everyman Theater, Load of Fun Studios, The Depot and Club Charles.

Recreation: In addition to a couple of small "pocket" parks located in the neighborhood, the 746-acre Druid Hill Park is nearby.

Laura Barnhardt is a former Sun reporter.

charles north by the numbers
ZIP codes: 21218, 21201

Homes currently on the market: 7

Average listing price: $333,000

Average sales price: $ 479,250*

Average days on the market: 436*

*Information based on one sale in the past 12 months. Information was compiled by Andrew R. Kreinik, City Life Realty.

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