These are rough times for Baltimore and most other aging cities. Not only is the lure of residential suburbs continuing but "edge cities" like Owings Mills, White Marsh and Columbia are increasingly competing for offices and businesses.
Which is why we invite readers to take another look at a little-known in-town neighborhood called Madison Park. Bounded by North Avenue, Laurens, Morris and Tiffany streets, it is a melange of architectural styles from Second Empire and Queen Anne to Romanesque Revival. Once predominantly Jewish, it was one of Baltimore's earliest African-American middle-class neighborhoods and experienced a revival in the 1970s. As the black middle-class joined the exodus to the suburbs, improvements in Madison Park seemed to stop. Vacant houses remained eyesores.
The good news is that Madison Park is on the mend again. The boarded-up old "colored" Madison Avenue YMCA is being converted into condominiums. Nearby, another vandalized hulk, the Bellevieu-Manchester apartments, will soon be renovated into senior citizen housing.
Madison Park is one of 18 areas that has been given official designation as a historic neighborhood since 1964, when the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation was created. Since then, that panel has had its share of victories and defeats. But Baltimore today arguably values the uniqueness of its historic structures more than it did three decades ago.
The impetus for CHAP's formation was a fear among preservationists that the integrity of Mount Vernon Square would be compromised. Indeed, the priceless Waterloo Row was demolished.
But for the most part, the buildings surrounding the square were saved. With the restoration of several Peabody facades, the Thomas-Jencks-Gladding House and the redesign of the 1960s office building housing the Annie E. Casey Foundation headquarters, the square is sparkling again.
There is much good news on Baltimore's preservation front. The story-book-like American Brewery castle on Gay Street seems to have a new lease on life; so does the President Street station. With aid from such activist organizations as Baltimore Heritage, CHAP has been able to raise the city's awareness of its heritage.