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Life anew is coming for Waverly’s long-neglected town hall

From left, Ted Rouse, Sarah Keogh and Jacob Wittenberg, members of the Central Baltimore Partnership, stand in front of the old Waverly Town Hall on Greenmount Avenue. Their organization will redevelop buildings into retail spaces and apartments.
From left, Ted Rouse, Sarah Keogh and Jacob Wittenberg, members of the Central Baltimore Partnership, stand in front of the old Waverly Town Hall on Greenmount Avenue. Their organization will redevelop buildings into retail spaces and apartments. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

A battered structure perhaps best known as the Northside Bar is about to undergo a turnaround designed to give new life and respect to a tarnished neighborhood landmark.

The 1870 Waverly Hall, also called the town hall, at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street is to be put back in shape thanks to efforts by the Central Baltimore Future Fund with the support of State of Maryland and business partners Ted Rouse and Jacob Wittenberg.

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Work on the project is slated for the spring. The Future Fund, which works in a loosely defined part of the city stretching from Oakenshawe to Greenmount West, bought three contiguous vacant properties in 2018 for $414,000. There is a construction budget of $1.5 million to create seven apartments and five retail spaces. New tenants may include some of Baltimore’s new incubator businesses and food services.

“The important thing is that when we finish the building there will be retail-facing presences on both Greenmount Avenue and on 31st Street,” said Sarah Keogh, executive director of the Central Baltimore Future Fund.

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“This project is going to be transformational for Greenmount Avenue — on top of the good things already happening there,” she said. “There are longtime anchors and longstanding businesses already in place in Waverly that have always given life to the street. Now this project is going to help to remove an eyesore.”

Community organizations, including Better Waverly, Abell and Waverly Main Street, championed the restoration of what promises to be an anchor for its own block as well as the small but nicely restored portions of East 31st Street where Normal’s Books & Records store has been a fixture for many years.

Not far down the street, the former Vinson animal hospital building has been painted in a playful mural that, among other things, pays homage to the No. 8 streetcar and Goetze caramel cremes.

The old town hall has a significant history. Constructed in 1870, it was the centerpiece of Waverly when it was a Baltimore County village. The building housed a public school, a private library, post office and drug store. There was a flourishing cigar factory there too, making stogies sold under the Waverly brand name.

The hall hosted numerous political gatherings, and it was here that 19th-century landowners rallied to have this part of Baltimore County annexed into Baltimore City when the city line was at North Avenue. Local voices debated which streets got paved and when they would be outfitted with streetlights and curbing.

Hard as it may be to fathom today, this corner also was a public transportation hub. The old No. 17 line that served served Mount Vernon, Old Goucher, Charles Village (Peabody Heights, as it was then known) and downtown Baltimore ran along 31st Street to reach the well-known No. 8 streetcar service at Greenmount Avenue. From time to time the old rails, covered over, emerge through 31st Street’s asphalt near the hall.

Community groups have fought to get recognition for this landmark and nearly a decade ago the hall was designated a Baltimore City Landmark by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Being named a landmark does not come, however, with a new roof or a fresh coat of paint. There is damage from years of water leaks and pigeon infestation. But there is also history behind multiple layers of commercial additions.

The project already has had a good omen. When boarding fell off the side of the structure, a long-covered sign for “Prescriptions” at the hall’s original drug store was revealed. This was a reminder that this corner was not always the dive bar it had become.

“It will be great having people living above a workplace,” said Rouse, one of the developers. “And the historic authenticity of the hall makes it a player in helping the momentum of the whole 3100 block of Greenmount.”

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