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Demolition of Cab Calloway’s former Baltimore home delayed by grandson’s appeal

Cab Calloway's former home is boarded up like much of the 2200 block of Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.
Cab Calloway's former home is boarded up like much of the 2200 block of Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore city’s government stood poised to demolish the house at 2216 Druid Hill Ave., the site of a prolonged and bitter conflict over its preservation, where Baltimore-raised jazz pioneer Cab Calloway lived nearly a century ago. Now, the planned demolition has been halted pending an appeal, a spokesperson for the Baltimore city Department of Housing and Community Development confirmed.

“We were in the final stages of preparing for demolition work to begin in Druid Heights,” wrote Tammy Hawley of the Department of Housing and Community Development in an email on Tuesday. “We posted the notice for [demolition], which is a 5-10-day notice. Since that time, an appeal was filed to stop the demolition of 2216."

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The appeal came from Peter Brooks, Calloway’s grandson and the most visible proponent of saving the derelict house from the wrecking ball. Brooks said Tuesday that attorney John Murphy advised him and supporters that they had the opportunity to appeal the city’s permit for demolition. Per section 128 of the city’s Building, Fire and Related Codes, the appeal essentially requires the city to hold a public hearing. With the escalating COVID-19 pandemic making such a gathering impossible, Hawley said that the city is now looking into holding a virtual hearing. Demolition will not take place until such a hearing happens.

Brooks has consistently argued that the house, where Calloway and his musician sister Blanche Calloway spent several years prior to their fame as jazz musicians, holds value for future generations of Baltimoreans to know their history. He said Tuesday that the delay was a victory for those generations and the general importance of under-recognized black history in Baltimore.

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“We still have a long way to go and we have to take it one step at a time,” Brooks said. “I think right now, the charge is to organize and try to present the best possible argument that we can.”

The struggle over the house’s status often pitted Brooks and his supporters against the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, the local organization who was working with the city to replace the house and others on the dilapidated block with a park. The park underwent various name changes and was known as Cab Calloway Legends Park as recently as January.

The Druid Heights Community Development Corporation’s executive director Anthony Pressley declined to comment when reached on Tuesday afternoon. Pressley and the organization had earlier maintained that they and the city solicited input for the park via community outreach and meetings and believed the neighborhood wanted the park.

The city has not yet set a timeline for hearings. In the meantime, Brooks and the pro-preservation side have a new supporter in mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah, who held a press conference by the house on Monday to support a public hearing on its status. He said Tuesday that he sees the house as being a potential anchor for the Black Arts District on nearby Pennsylvania Avenue.

“What’s the harm in allowing there to be a request for proposal, so that we can see options that would allow that home to be preserved without demolishing the entire block?” he said.

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