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From 'The Wire' to mixed-income Station Arts housing

Jacob Wittenberg of Edgemont Builders, left, and Ted Rouse stand at the corner of East Lanvale Street and Guilford Avenue, where they are developing several properties.
Jacob Wittenberg of Edgemont Builders, left, and Ted Rouse stand at the corner of East Lanvale Street and Guilford Avenue, where they are developing several properties. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

There’s a little-noticed residential transformation underway in Greenmount West, the 19th-century community near the gates of Green Mount Cemetery.

In the last few weeks, 27 trucks left the corner of Lanvale Street and Guilford Avenue. They were full of foundation stones and timbers that filled the site of the old Guilford Avenue Methodist Church. The neighborhood church, a project of the enterprising Dr. John Goucher, the namesake of Goucher College and a women’s higher education pioneer, stood for decades in the neighborhood.

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In its declining years, the church lost its congregation, burned in 1964, sat vacant and unboarded for another five years, then was finally plowed down for a parking lot.

“There was nothing there. I thought this must have been an industrial site,” said Ted Rouse, a developer who is at work on the site with his partner, Jacob Wittenberg, a builder. “We had no idea there once was a church here.”

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A few weeks ago, they discovered the church’s buried May 1898 cornerstone.

Jakayla Holmes, age 9, was feeling a little bit sorry for the visiting stranger because he wasn’t getting the same chance to be creative that she was enjoying.

Greenmount West, like so many Baltimore neighborhoods, was once marked by roofless vacant houses and empty industrial plants.

The years of families leaving this neighborhood are over. Rouse points to the 300 block of E. Lanvale St., which was once 70% vacant. He and his building partner, Wittenberg, won city approval to renovate the 12 empty houses along this block. They were successful — and sold historically restored homes under the guidelines of the city’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation — for $350,000 to $375,000 each. One larger property brought $410,000. The remaining 30% of the block remains affordable rental housing.

Rouse and Wittenberg were so encouraged — the homes they rehabilitated are popular with persons commuting, often by train, to Washington and its job market — that they applied to the city government to bid competitively for the vacant lot at the corner of Guilford Avenue and Lanvale Street. They took title to the land and expect to have seven new homes — literally built on the old church site — ready later this year. Their development will be marketed under the name Station Arts Homes, a reference to nearby Pennsylvania Station and the presence of so many working artists nearby.

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Greenmount West was once of mixture of rowhouses tucked into blocks with industrial buildings. Its best-known landmark, the Copy Cat building, with its painters’ and sculptors’ studios, was part of the Crown Cork and Seal bottle cap empire. Today’s Baltimore Design School was once the Lebow men’s suit tailoring operation. The other well-known landmarks are Pennsylvania Station, served by Amtrak and MARC, and Federal Street’s Bell Foundry, now set for a conversion to apartments.

“There is social capital in this neighborhood to be shared,” Rouse said. “Greenmount West is a successful example of mixed-income housing. Mixed-income housing helps break the cycle of poverty. Vacant houses on a block are like cancer, and finding a way to fill them with homeowners is one of the most effective way to stabilize a neighborhood.”

He added: “For all the population decrease we have in Baltimore, it is great that we have neighborhoods like Greenmount West where we can move the city forward.”

If disbelievers doubt the changes in Greenmount West, consider that the neighborhood was once used as a location in HBO’s “The Wire.” Preston “Bodie” Broadus had a corner at 1701 Barclay St. Since the series was filmed, the house where the fictitious character sold drugs has been rebuilt. A former Guilford Avenue public school used in the series is now the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School.

“Part of the benefit of living here is that residents have some priority in gaining admission for their children to Baltimore Montessori,” Rouse said. “And in an hour you can be in a job in Washington.”

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