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Baltimore witnesses a year of stealth change

The historic Drovers and Mechanic National Bank on North Eutaw and Fayette streets, gutted and remodeled into a Springhill Suites hotel.
The historic Drovers and Mechanic National Bank on North Eutaw and Fayette streets, gutted and remodeled into a Springhill Suites hotel. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Theater audiences ceased going to the Hippodrome Theatre during the pandemic. But that didn’t stop a hot zone of rebuilding and change along Eutaw Street near this restored playhouse.

For starters, the old Drovers’ and Mechanics’ National Bank that stood vacant for decades was converted into a Springhill Suites. The 1894 financial landmark named for 19th-century livestock drovers emerged from a long period of disuse. Alongside, a new apartment residence rose. Called Prosper on Fayette, it is moving toward an August opening. This new building will house students in apartments that should fit into the needs of the University of Maryland’s downtown Baltimore campus.

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During the year a demolition crew took down a 1980s addition to the Lexington Market to make way for a new interpretation of this downtown Baltimore institution. The new Lexington Market took shape on a former parking lot not far from the former Farmers’ Bank.

Another parking lot disappeared in 2020 as artists’ and affordable housing rose out of the ground in the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District, in a location not far from the Hippodrome Theatre and Lexington Market.

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Called the Four Ten Lofts, at Eutaw and Mulberry streets, it’s a $24 million residence that is a project of the Episcopal Housing Corp. and French Development, designed to serve Baltimore’s arts community and persons exiting homelessness.

It’s been a slow crawl for downtown Baltimore’s Howard Street neighborhood, but the signs of some new momentum appeared in 2020.

The city named a new developer for long-vacant buildings along Lexington Street at Howard in the heart of what had been Baltimore’s once-bustling retail shopping district. This collection of old five-and-dimes and the old Julius Gutman department store has long seemed immune to reinvestment.

The presence of so much work along Eutaw Street, with the promised Lexington Market reopening, suggests that the stalled Superblock may, at last, have a chance of changing from the depressing eyesore it is now.

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Other Baltimore neighborhoods have also spent decades slowly transforming themselves. When all the pieces fit together, the result is amazing.

The year 2020 revealed just how much Fells Point and Harbor East have changed in the last 50 years. A number of components, a renovated Broadway Market and the Sagamore Pendry Hotel, seemed to fall in line with the dramatic redevelopment of Harbor Point, once an industrial brownfield best known for the Allied Signal chemical plant.

The arrival of a new Whole Foods Market at 711 South Central Ave. in a mixed-use development, Liberty Harbor East, was another marker of change along the Southeast Baltimore waterfront.

A pair of landmarks disappeared in 2020. A wing of the Maryland Penitentiary was demolished, as was the block of Druid Hill Avenue rowhouses that housed a residence where entertainer and band leader Cab Calloway lived for a time.

Among the small businesses that bloomed in the pandemic was bakery Motzi Bread, which opened at 28th Street and Guilford Avenue, serving the Harwood and Charles Village communities. Bottoms Up Bagels also arrived on Greenmount Avenue near 28th Street. Not far from Patterson Park, Pie Time opened at Baltimore Street and Ellwood Avenue.

The year also saw a new apartment house completed for Johnston Square at East Chase Street and Greenmount Avenue. West Baltimore saw the redevelopment of the old Walbrook Lumber Co. as the Walbrook Mill on West North Avenue. The former Hebrew Orphanage, later West Baltimore General and still later Lutheran hospitals, also made a dramatic return from near destruction. This grand old building proved a fantastic survivor and is now the pride of Rayner Avenue.

Baltimore remains sentimentally attached to the old neighborhood movie houses that stopped showing films decades ago. Both the Boulevard in Waverly and the Ambassador in Northwest Baltimore are in the hands of neighborhood-based organizations working toward their continued preservation and new uses.

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