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19th-century charm, contemporary commerce coexist in North Baltimore’s Better Waverly neighborhood

Editor’s note: The Better Waverly profile is one article in The Sun’s City of Neighborhoods series, spotlighting Baltimore communities. Other neighborhoods in the series: Upton, Mount Winans, Stonewood-Pentwood-Winston, Dickeyville, Ashburton and Highlandtown.

Few Baltimore neighborhoods embody the balance of urban accessibility and suburban tranquillity better than Better Waverly, nestled along Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street in North Baltimore. Sometimes lumped in with neighboring Waverly, Better Waverly is among a series of connected neighborhoods near what had been Memorial Stadium. It is diverse, with less segregation than other parts of the city, beautiful housing stock and plenty of character.

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“It’s pretty laid back, a lot of homeowners,” said resident Kevin Jennings.

Some of the homeownership is due to proximity to Hopkins’ Homewood campus and residents’ participation in the university’s Live Near Your Work program, which supports employees’ homeownership.

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“It’s nice, quiet, we have good neighborhoods … the block I grew up on in West Baltimore was a bit rougher than this,” said Neal Blackmon, who used Live Near Your Work to buy his house while working at Hopkins.

History

Better Waverly has its roots in a series of prominent families’ estates, according to a walking tour organized by the Better Waverly Community Organization. Some of these, including that of the planter Thomas Gorsuch, are immortalized in street names. Sonja Merchant-Jones of the Better Waverly Community Organization said the neighborhood “was like the gateway to Towson” before it developed and was annexed from the county by the city in 1888. Over the ensuing decades, the area became racially mixed and, according to Merchant-Jones, grew into a hub for the LGBTQ community.

According to the community organization, the name “Better Waverly” arose in the mid-1970s, with people asking in community meetings how to make Waverly better. The identity of a distinct neighborhood from Waverly, comprising parts of that neighborhood south of 33rd Street, then coalesced around this area.

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Physical space

The neighborhood is a trapezoid bounded by East 33rd Street, Greenmount Avenue, Loch Raven Road and East 25th Street. It is surrounded by Abell, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, East Baltimore Midway, Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, Harwood and Waverly.

Many of the buildings are duplexes or separated family homes, and many have porches and/or front yards, giving the neighborhood a suburban feel.

Things to do

The Better Waverly Community Organization’s walking tour showcases the area’s Victorian and other distinctive architectural styles. It also points out other historical tidbits — for instance, seven Victorians built for the same family line one side of Montpelier Street, and a trolley used to run on Gorsuch Road between Greenmount Avenue and Harford Road.

Young people can take part in programs offered by 901 Arts, a nonprofit organization and youth community center at 901 Montpelier St. It’s responsible for a sculpture garden on the 800 block of Homestead St.

There are also a number of restaurants, carryout spots and stores along Greenmount Avenue. Two notable highlights nearby are Thai Restaurant, which 901 Arts co-founder Debra Evans calls a “hidden gem,” and Urban Reads Bookstore, which focuses on Black literature and sells natural personal care goods.

Demographics

Better Waverly’s population fell from 3,652 in the 1990 Census to 2,874 in the 2010 Census, according to an analysis by Baltimore’s planning department — and the city’s total population has fallen more in the past decade.

In 2018, Better Waverly’s median household income was $31,962, about 63% of the city’s median income. Its unemployment rate (8%) was slightly higher than the city at large (7%). The median home sales price from 2017-2019 was a little under $40,000 — about half of the city’s median home sales price. Among residents, about 70% are Black, 20% are white and most of the remaining 10% identify as two or more races.

Transit and walkability

With ease of access to Ace Hardware, Giant and the weekly 32nd Street Farmers Market (technically in Abell), walkability is one of Better Waverly’s major assets. The walkability score ranks 86 out of 100, according to Live Baltimore. The neighborhood is also served by the bus routes 8, 3 and 22.

Issues

Housing and economic equity are major concerns for leaders in Better Waverly, like in other neighborhoods close to Johns Hopkins’ main campus.

Leadership

Merchant-Jones is chair of the Better Waverly Community Organization. Odette Ramos, a Democrat, is the neighborhood’s representative on Baltimore City Council.

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