It was 19 years ago that the old Haussner's restaurant closed. For years afterward, it remained a shell, a reminder of changing fortunes along Eastern Avenue.
The celebrated restaurant was finally bulldozed last year, replaced by the $10 million Highland Haus — 65 apartments on six floors at the Highlandtown corner where diners once ate their wiener schnitzel and strawberry pie under gilt-framed canvases.
The Highland Haus, with upper floors featuring expansive views of the the harbor, Fort McHenry and Patterson Park's trees and playing fields, arrives after the neighborhood's surrounding residential blocks underwent a decade's worth of steady reinvestment.
Eastern Avenue, Highlandtown and upper Canton's main thoroughfare, was not as resilient as the surrounding blocks with their classic white marble steps and well-washed front windows. Haussner's was not the only business to close. Highlandtown lost its Epstein's department store, Stella's Gowns and the Gordon Phillips Beauty School.
Southeast Community Development Corp., a neighborhood-based commercial recovery effort, started working on filling the business vacancies and making residents believe again in their walk-to shopping venue.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library built a branch on the site of the old Grand Theater. The old Patterson Theater is now the home to the Creative Alliance. New businesses operated by members of the Latino, Israeli, Ethiopian and Greek communities opened, too. Trash cans were painted shades of hot pink, lime green, teal and orange. The Bolewicki appliance store property has been sold, and there are plans to open an ice cream and coffee shop here.
"Our whole Main Street initiative has come together now," said Chris Ryer, the Southeast Community Development Corp. director. "It's been a 10-year process. The smaller shopfronts with the family-owned businesses were the first ones to fill up. They clustered around the library, some dollar stores and a drugstore. Spots like Haussner's occupied a weird middle ground, too small for a large developer and too big for a small developer."
This past year, he and his Highlandtown Main Street coordinator, Amanda Smit-Peters, say that an improving economy has helped transform Highlandtown's larger and more troublesome spaces. An old boys' and girls' club is becoming apartments, and the beauty school is becoming a fitness club. Highland Haus stands as a clear sign of Eastern Avenue's transformation.
"This project has been catalytic in helping this little stretch of Eastern Avenue," said Peter Z. Garver, who developed the site with Taylor Properties. "We are one mile to the Hopkins medical campus, with 20,000 people working there, and one mile from Bayview, with 5,000."
Asked why he thought the time was right to invest at the corner of Clinton Street and Eastern Avenue, Garver said, "It's the proximity to Patterson Park, a changing economy, the energy of Highlandtown and Canton and the idea that millennials like a neighborhood with plenty of diversity."
Garver and his partners retained touches from the old restaurant as they built Highland Haus. They used leaded-glass windows inscribed with the Haussner capital H. They also saved the large terra cotta medallions that once adorned the restaurant's facade and placed them in a residents' gathering space that overlooks the southeastern quadrant of the city.
Ryer says the neighborhood still has work to accomplish.
"The old Crown Cork and Seal complex, along with Cambridge Iron and Metals, is a large tract that sits between Highlandtown and Greektown. It is on the market, and developers are making their bids and proposals," Ryer said. "It would be really, really awesome to see the vacant parts of that huge property occupied and its vacant buildings renovated."