Advertisement
Baltimore City

West Baltimore garage featured in Jim Crow-era ‘Green Book’ envisioned as food hall, coworking space

As Shelley Halstead gazes upon the vacant, disheveled building that once hosted a stop in the “Green Book,” all she sees is potential.

“They just want to keep scraping houses and buildings. And I just, I’m a carpenter. Like first and foremost, I’m like, ‘No, let’s rebuild it,’” Halstead said. “I live here. I want to see this thing happen.”

Advertisement
Marble Hill resident Shelley Halstead wants to renovate a garage featured in the "Green Book" and convert it to a coworking space and food hall.

Standing last month on a deserted street and bundled up against the cold, Halstead, 53, painted the picture of how she plans to transform 1415 Etting St. from an abandoned eyesore into a community gathering place for the residents of historic Marble Hill, situated in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood.

The building was once a stop in the “Green Book,” a travel guide featuring businesses that would host Black customers during segregation. In Jim Crow-era America, Black customers risked not just refusal of service, but violence if they tried to patronize certain businesses.

Advertisement

Halstead said she hopes the building, which she imagines as a coworking space and food hall, will provide a “third space” for people to congregate that isn’t their home or workplace.

“Unless you’re going to the [YMCA], which is up the block, or church around here, there’s nowhere else to go,” she said. “There’s nothing else to do. There’s nowhere else to hang out.”

Halstead, the founder of Black Women Build Baltimore, a nonprofit that promotes homeownership by Black women, paid $140,000 in 2021 for the two adjacent buildings that will make up the food hall. She estimates it will cost her $3 million and two to three years to complete her planned renovation.

That’s on top of two other projects Halstead has in the area: artists’ loft apartments underway at 1426 Druid Hill Ave. and a cafe to be built at 1434 McCulloh St. In total, Halstead plans to spend $6 million on the three projects, covered mostly by loans.

Stephan Hanley, treasurer of the Marble Hill Improvement Association, said the 1400 block of Etting Street is “long neglected.”

The building at 1411-1417 Etting St. was featured in the "Green Book."

Similarly, the Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway said he hopes projects like Halstead’s will be a “tipping point” toward reversing decades of economic disenfranchisement.

Hathaway, the retired pastor of Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue, grew up in Upton in the 1950s and 1960s. He recalled it as a thriving, “self-contained hub” in which Black residents from all walks of life lived alongside one another.

Hathaway remembers five movie theaters, gas stations, a coal company, and corner stores with fresh vegetables.

Advertisement

“All of the services, all of the amenities that you would want in the community, located there,” Hathaway said.

Larger arteries like Druid Hill and Pennsylvania avenues were home to ornate, stately houses, while smaller streets like Etting were where the working class lived in more humble lodgings, Hathaway said.

Sundays were by far the busiest days, when the sidewalks came alive with pedestrians walking to and from church and patronizing shops.

Upton and the historic district of Marble Hill played “an outsized role” in the civil rights movement relative to its small geographic area, according to Johns W. Hopkins, the executive director of Baltimore Heritage, a historical preservation and neighborhood revitalization organization.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, NAACP lobbyist Clarence Mitchell Jr. and civil rights activist Lillie Carroll Jackson all called Upton home at one point. Jackson and her daughter, Juanita, began the “Buy Where You Can Work” picketing campaign to force white-owned businesses to hire Black people, which became a model for similar efforts in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, Hopkins said.

But redlining (policies under which Black homebuyers couldn’t get loans or insurance in specific areas), followed by the 1968 riots, took their toll, according to Hathaway and Hopkins. People moved away and homeowners sold their properties, leaving scores of vacant homes behind. Plans to redevelop the neighborhood continually fell through.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, city, state and federal agencies invested in other neighborhoods, Hopkins said.

“That fed onto, sort of built on top of, this redlining [and] housing transfer problem,” he said. “We had a disinvestment of basic sorts of services that neighborhoods require, like schools and roads and whatnot … for years and years.”

Democratic City Council member Eric Costello, who represents the district that encompasses Marble Hill, said that “stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue” near the old garage “is one of the most significant corridors of Black history in the United States.”

“The neighborhoods of Upton and Marble Hill are on the rise, without question,” Costello said.

Halstead, a Black woman from Seattle, said the history of redlining and adverse effects of the “war on drugs” really “disenfranchised this area,” lending extra importance to its revitalization.

Halstead is using $150,000 in state grants to stabilize the building.

Advertisement
Marble Hill resident Shelley Halstead is inside an old garage she wants to renovate. The building, once featured in the "Green Book," will become a new coworking and food hall space. The structure at 1411-1417 Etting St. is part of larger plans to reinvigorate Marble Hill as a part of Halstead's plan with her group Black Women Build Baltimore.

“It’s really important that the state is involved in helping revitalize these areas,” Halstead said. “I think it’s important for the state to help a city like Baltimore out.”

Hathaway unveiled his own plans last year to rehabilitate and reopen the former Henry Highland Garnet School, where Marshall attended school from 1914 to 1921, as a community and educational center.

“Now you start to get investment of capital coming into that community,” he said. “That is going to be very positive in the future.”

Part of what drew Halstead to 1415 Etting St. is its history as a garage featured in the “Green Book,” marking it as a safe place for Black people to travel.

“This is the same sort of thing,” Halstead said. “We want this to be a safe community … and provide a safe space for people to come to.”

The University of Virginia, which maintains a database of sites featured in The “Green Book,” states that the building was originally used as a stable. It was converted to a garage in 1920.

Advertisement

The 6,000-square-foot garage was built that year, according to state property records. A 1930 Sun listing advertised it as a two-story, eight-car garage — with an elevator — that motorists could rent for $55 to $70 a month. Another Sun listing from 1933 advertised rug cleaners at the location.

A 1933 Sun advertisement listing services at 1415 Etting St.

Hathaway said he didn’t remember the garage, though he recalled others like it.

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

“Garages in terms of support services, in terms of mechanics, tire chains, things like that were important and valuable,” he said. “I did remember that these were places where people worked to provide services in the community.”

The Etting Street building appears in every “Green Book” from 1947 to 1955, according to the University of Virginia database.

That corresponds with both a rise in car ownership and a wave of Black Americans migrating from the South to other parts of the U.S., according to David Terry, a Morgan State University associate professor and author of “The Struggle and the Urban South: Confronting Jim Crow in Baltimore before the Movement.”

In addition, the “Green Book” was “not simply about where you can eat, where you can lay your head at night,” Terry said.

Advertisement

“What they were selling was the dignified experience of being an American citizen, a consumer: ‘Go here, your money will be respected like any other American’s money should be,’” Terry said.

Halstead, who lives around the corner, said she wants to restore forgotten pieces of Black history. Standing in the middle of the project site, which will need to be gutted before it can be transformed, Halstead said she just wants Marble Hill to bustle again.

“All of it has potential. Everything they knock down actually has potential,” Halstead said. “I understand some things are dangerous. I get it. But I just — it’s sad to me, and I just want to save all of it.”

The "Negro Travelers' Green Book" from 1953.

Advertisement