There was no mistaking Mary Schaub as she passed along the streets of Charles Village. I never saw her in any footwear but high heels. This time of the year, she might be sporting a mink stole over a tailored suit.
She was easy to chat up and seemed to invite casual conversation at the bus stop. She had a tradition-heavy Baltimore job. She was a pari-mutuel clerk, another way of saying she sold or cashed tickets at Pimlico or Laurel. We often spoke of the pleasures and perils of playing the ponies.
For many years, she lived with her father, Joe, in a roomy Calvert Street house near 27th Street. Joe Schaub was a local landlord who seemed to own numerous properties. I began to wonder if all was well when I spotted Mary rooting through a trash can where I had recently disposed of old opera magazines.
Mary inherited one of her father's largest rental homes, a corner house that faces Lovely Lane United Methodist Church in the Old Goucher neighborhood. She left Calvert and moved there, and before long I began hearing stories of the cats and dogs in the house. Her new address was one of those enormous, three-story, full-basement corner houses. It could hold a lot, and it didn't take long for Mary to fill it.
She died in May 2008 at age 83. In the later years of her life, she lived in what had become a neighborhood nuisance, as the house filled up with cats and dogs. I heard more of the story from her sister, Rita Range, who lives in Seattle. The cats and dogs had been taken in by a male companion of Mary. You did not want to walk past this cat colony on a humid July afternoon.
The house went to public auction after her death and sold for nearly $135,000. James Erny, who owns neighboring apartment houses, bought it. He formed a business partnership with Kwame Tanner. Erny hired Brick Arch Historic Preservation, and the work of cleaning out, gutting and rehabilitating 2128 St. Paul St. began 23 months ago. The work is not complete. Most of last winter it was covered in scaffolding and tarps as workers toiled at removing the layers of thick paint that Joe Schaub used on the brick exterior walls.
Erny took me on a tour of Mary's house this week. He confirmed the effects of keeping so many animals confined. There were doors where the dogs had scratched the wood away so they could escape a locked room.
Erny and Tanner met at City College, where Erny was teaching biology. Tanner has a business, Phoenix Rising, an assisted-living and home care agency. They worked with state licensing officials to have the house approved for what they call "boutique" assisted living. Handicapped and elderly residents will be able to rent rooms here, take their meals and be supervised by round-the-clock nursing care. The renovation continues.
My trip through Old Goucher continued to the corner of 21st Street, where I met Alan Mlinarchik, who is also in a partnership with Erny on another troublesome corner property, 2101. This house was known as the Green Monster. It was also malodorous, perhaps because it had been closed up and unused for more than 40 years. It got the name from the color of the stucco applied to its walls.
It was built as a neighborhood apartment and called the Victoria, a name set in tiles in its vestibule. A developer had been working on this place a few years, but the financial collapse of 2008 caught up with him and the bank that held the paper. Mlinarchik and Erny bought it for $355,000 and spent another year completing the work that had been stalled. Tenants began moving in this month.
It's no big deal that two long-neglected Baltimore houses have been renovated. But these are some of the most stubborn cases in a neighborhood where even the most famous vacancy, the Chesapeake Restaurant, is finally on the way to renewal.