The sticky notes warn not to overload the electrical circuits. The back porch and tool storage area leak.
Patterson Park’s historic superintendent’s house needs renovation after about 45 years of hard use as a workhorse neighborhood center. It’s here at Patterson Park Avenue and East Lombard Street that summer concerts, health festivals and soccer programs get organized. It’s here that the volunteers assemble to open up and staff the nearby Patterson Park Pagoda.
In the early 1980s, when the East Baltimore community was just coming together to begin a strategy to renovate homes in the blocks around the park, the house served as the headquarters for the old Banner Neighborhoods.
And a parks and neighborhood group is now seeking $600,000 to create an expanded area for the old park superintendent’s residence, which is called the White House for no other reason than its bricks carry a coat of white paint.
It’s a case where this neighborhood parks preservation and programming effort has been so successful that it has outgrown its original digs.
“It’s an old house, and it has not had a good renovation since the 1970s,” said Jennifer Arndt Robinson, executive director of the Friends of Patterson Park. “It has become more and more challenging to work here.”
The house, built in 1868, will not change.
“It’s historic. We don’t want to move walls or anything,” Robinson said. “But we do need more covered space, space for the tools our volunteers use to keep the park looking good. But it’s getting tight in here. The office I share formerly had been a bedroom.”
In a 1920 Sun article, architect George Frederick recalled his lengthy career designing Baltimore landmarks, including City Hall. One of his first commissions, he said, was from the Park Board. Its members wanted a new entrance to Patterson Park, which had been a Civil War Union soldiers’ encampment.
He provided a set of limestone gates, a fountain, courtyard and home for the park superintendent. The construction of these municipal amenities coincided with the families who were moving to new houses being built in what we call Butchers Hill today.
The park’s Victorian-era fountain is not working, and the Friends of Patterson are joining with city and state funders to spend $40,000 to repair its internal plumbing and filtration system. The fountain should be gushing again in the summer of 2020.
A November 1869 article in The Sun heaped praise on the park’s entry gates, which were described as “a splendid marble archway.”
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Joggers and dog walkers stand on the park’s high ground near the White House and observe the Patapsco River and the Key Bridge. On a rainy late fall day, the place has the feel of a 1890s neighborhood set inside a city where the old industries have not quite disappeared.
The Friends of the Park group creates a calendar of events. The park’s heavily used ball fields, swimming pool and tennis courts are administered by the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
In a few weeks, Robinson will begin working at another site as the White House shuts down for its $700,000 refurbishment. When the $600,000 for a new courtyard and ancillary structure is raised, this part of the project can proceed.
“We will be actively fundraising for that portion of the project in 2020," Robinson said.
The expanded area will better accommodate the 650 volunteers who help keep Patterson park a special place. The current makeshift storage area has seen better days. Wheelbarrows rust after a rain.
This is a kind of special place in Baltimore. It is here, Robinson said, that some grooms come to propose marriage at the Patterson Park Pagoda. The top floor, overlooking the city, is popular.
“We’ll even consider having a small wedding here when we are finished,” Robinson said. “But not too large. We don’t want to be an event company.”