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Old burlap bag factory becoming loft housing in Baltimore’s Washington Hill

Left to right: Guy Stravinsky, superintendent; Jacob Wittenberg, builder; and Daniel Kamenetz, owner, stand in front of City Spring Lofts, a development of 15 apartments and 2 storefronts, under construction on the 1500 block of E. Baltimore St.
Left to right: Guy Stravinsky, superintendent; Jacob Wittenberg, builder; and Daniel Kamenetz, owner, stand in front of City Spring Lofts, a development of 15 apartments and 2 storefronts, under construction on the 1500 block of E. Baltimore St. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

You can’t say that a brown brick building at Baltimore and Dallas streets in the Washington Hill section of East Baltimore hasn’t been a part of working Baltimore.

After 19th-century rowhouses were torn down to create a large lot around the time of the First World War, owner Chaim Lubin built a burlap and canvas bag business and no doubt hired recent immigrants from the old part of Baltimore, north of Fells Point and not so far from the Johns Hopkins Hospital. It later became Eastern Auto Sales' used-car operation and then Reece Chairs, a furniture maker.

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It now sits in a sweet spot, a block or two away from the northern edge of Perkins Homes, the public housing tract about to transition to an ambitious mixed-use development.

What is now called City Springs Lofts is well on its way to becoming 15 apartments and a pair of retail shops. It’s a story of so many of Baltimore’s neighborhood manufacturing enterprises that have gone from mixing vats, assembly lines and sewing machines to granite counters, hardwood floors and sleeping lofts. Think of the old Noxzema plant in Hampden, Mill No. 1 on Falls Road or the old Panzer pickle factory in Fells Point.

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Heading up this development are Daniel Kamenetz, the nephew of the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and Jake Wittenberg, president of Edgemont Builders.

“This why you move to the city,” said Kamenetz of City Springs Lofts. "This is the kind of building you think of when you first dream of moving to the city, a historic building above a storefront with a view of the city skyline in the distance. You are not in some underused game room in a 300-unit apartment building. "

East Baltimore Street at Dallas is squarely in the heart of old Baltimore. Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 just up the hill at the former Washington College Hospital, later part of Church Home and Hospital. North Broadway is a block away, and City Springs Lofts sits in the middle of an area where housing activists championed a successful revival 40 years ago.

“This is a neighborhood that achieves true diversity of income, race and life experiences," Kamenetz said. “Our project is just a one paragraph in the book of reinvestment in Perkins Homes and Washington Hill."

Wittenberg, the project’s builder, describes this as a “true loft building,” meaning the ceilings on the west side of the structure, facing South Caroline Street and the First Apostolic Institution Church, accommodate an elevated floor.

“We are preserving the industrial nature of the building, and keeping that character makes it special. We are salvaging as much of the existing architectural fabric as possible," Wittenberg said. "Anybody who travels through Baltimore City on a regular basis has noticed that it’s been vacant for a long time and that now it’s coming back to life.”

Units on the east side of the building have windows that overlook the City Springs Park, a plot of green lawn with an athletic field popular with soccer players.

Kamenertz, who bought the City Springs Lofts property with his father, Gregory, and other members of the Kamenetz family, likes the challenges that old city buildings offer. He is currently working on the former Strawbridge Methodist Church on Wilson Street in Bolton Hill and owns Gorsuch Avenue’s Homestead Methodist Church in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello community near Clifton Park. He recently bid at an auction on the old Christ’s Church Episcopal-New Deliverance Cathedral at St. Paul and Chase streets in Mount Vernon.

“I’ve watched these neighborhoods change over the last 10 years,” said Kamenetz of his East Baltimore investment. “What I see is that we are definitely in the path of progress now affecting Harbor East and Fells Point and what is promised for Perkins Homes.”

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