When Edmondson Village was getting ready to open 72 years ago, an article in The Sun praised it as “a suburban shopping center of harmonious design, said to be unique in American city planning.”
Yes, it looked pretty, designed to look more like a row of stately homes than the retail shopping centers and malls that would proliferate later; designers cited Colonial Williamsburg as one of their inspirations. But it was functional, too, with 29 shops when it opened and more added later. Within a few months of its May 7 debut, Edmondson Village boasted a food store and a tire store, a bank and a drug store, places to eat (including separate candy and ice cream stores) and buy clothes (including a hosiery shop). It also was home to a new Hochschild, Kohn & Co., one of the first suburban branches of the department stores that long ruled over the corner of Howard and Lexington streets downtown.
Early Friday morning, a three-alarm fire gutted much of the venerable (and apparently vulnerable) shopping center. Firefighters spent some 10 hours bringing the blaze under control. By the time they succeeded around 10 a.m., 10 businesses were damaged, many heavily; photos from the scene show many of the roofs caved in.
This was not the first time firefighters had been called to save Edmondson Village. In September 2008, a four-alarm fire caused an estimated half-million dollars in damage. There were additional fires in 1968 and the 1980s, fire department spokeswoman Blair Adams told The Sun.
The day before it opened in 1947, Edmondson Village’s owners and some of its merchants took out an eight-page ad in The Evening Sun. Proudly calling itself “the most beautiful Shopping Center in America,” the ad proclaimed its many benefits: four acres of parking, a library, a 200-seat “Village Hall” to be made available to the community, nighttime hours, serviced by two streetcar lines.
“It was the Harborplace of its day,” UMBC historian Edward Orser said.
Edmondson Village was built on an 11-acre tract dating to Revolutionary War days, when it was known as Hunting Ridge ― a name still attached to the surrounding community ― and was dominated by a mansion built by Daniel Dulany. He owned the property from 1769-1780, according to a history on the Hunting Ridge Community website.
Subsequent property owners in the area included Revolutionary War veteran John Swan, fruit farm owner John Cook (for whom Cooks Lane is named) and railroad magnate Thomas Winans.
Opened at a time when suburban shopping centers were a rarity, Edmondson Village was an answer to its community’s pleas, at least according to the ad its developers took out in the Evening Sun. “Numerous neighborhood groups,” it said (and it listed several, along with the names of their leaders), had petitioned the Baltimore County zoning board to change the parcel’s zoning from residential to commercial.
For years, the shopping center proved quite the community hub; it was expanded, and new businesses kept arriving, including a movie theater and bowling alley. Many storied Baltimore businesses operated stores or branches there: Samuel Kirk silver, Hess shoes (where visitors could watch monkeys cavorting inside a glass enclosure), Singer sewing machines, Wyman shoes, Whelan’s drugs (which included a soda fountain, one of three servicing thirsty shoppers), Tommy Tucker 5- and 10-cent store, Reuer photo supplies, Crib 'n Cradle, Dugout Restaurant (where submarine sandwiches made an early appearance).
“The shopping center has meant so much to the community over the years,” Heide Grundmann, a community activist in the nearby Ten Hills neighborhood, told The Sun in 1997, as the center marked its golden anniversary.
By then, however, Edmondson Village’s glory days seemed firmly behind it. Competition from other nearby, and bigger, shopping centers, including Westview and Ingleside, contributed to its decline. Both Hochschild’s and Hecht’s, which had opened in May 1947 across Edmondson Avenue, closed in the 1970s; many other businesses left as well, and storefronts often remained vacant. While the shops were refurbished in 1987 and the shopping center survived the 2008 fire, it remains to be seen whether it can arise, Phoenix-like, once again.