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There's good in building that city claims is bad


Bobbi McKinney loves the view from her 10th-floor apartment in the 700 block of Lexington St. She's loved it since she was the little 7-year-old girl who moved there when the building first opened in 1959.

Staring out her window, she looks longingly toward South Baltimore, watching cars and vans and trucks snake their way along the several thoroughfares leading from the city.

"I can watch the city come to life from up here," she said. "I throw bread out to the sea gulls, and they catch it in midair. I can see the rain coming before it hits. Unless you live in a high-rise or a condominium, you don't know the feeling."

McKinney won't live in her high-rise for long. Last month, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that HUD had approved $23 million to have the building she's loved the past 36 years torn down, probably by March. The goal is to rebuild ground-level, low-income homes and do away with the high-rises, which our leaders in their infinite wisdom have now decided are havens for drugs and crime.

Throughout the years, she has volunteered at Lexington Terrace Elementary School, winning a parent of the year award in 1989. She has been a PTA president, held a sleep-out with neighborhood children on the playground across from her nTC building and received several awards for her community activism. When City Council President Mary Pat Clarke visited the building, she stayed overnight in McKinney's apartment.

McKinney plans to hold the 13th Halloween Haunted House at the 755 building. It will be the last one, although she is reluctant to admit it.

"I hate words like 'last' and 'final,' " she said with a trace of remorse in her voice. It's a feeling inspired by having to leave 755, but her main concern now is raising the $300 she will need to make the haunted house the "best the building's ever had."

McKinney creates her haunted houses with a heap of imagination, along with some trash bags, duct tape, string and staples. She and some friends set up the haunted house behind the "tot lot" -- a play area to the rear of the elevators -- in the building.

"I take the children in one at a time and guide them through," McKinney explained. She clutches their hands, expecting them to be afraid of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls and screams of terror (provided through an audiotape) that await them within the haunted house that McKinney says is "dark and spooky."

The monsters are actually friends of McKinney's, decked out in makeup for the occasion. Usually about 500 tykes go through the haunted house, after donating a canned good that McKinney passes on to area soup kitchens. The kids are later rewarded for their little experience in mini-terror. McKinney provides them with hot dogs, punch, candy and ice cream.

Seeking a safe alternative to trick or treating, McKinney came up with the idea for the haunted house in 1983. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City usually provides the trash bags, but everything else -- the duct tape, string, staples, food, makeup and audiotapes -- costs. Her donations usually come from different sources.

"Last year it was Save The Children. The year before it was the Police Department," McKinney said, lamenting that so far this year no one has come forward to sponsor the haunted house. She has raised no money so far.

It's events like the haunted house that have inspired McKinney to stay at the 755 building -- where we were neighbors for a brief spell in 1959 when she lived on the 10th floor and I lived on the 11th -- as opposed to moving to another neighborhood. She has had the brick fence enclosing the front-floor apartments painted red to make the building more pleasing to the eye. Drug dealers steer clear of 755, she says, because they know she'll call the cops on them.

"They call me 'Dick Tracy,' " she beamed, the pride obvious in her voice. For years, she has wrangled with Housing Authority officials, insisting that with tenant involvement, low-income, high-rise housing projects can be both livable and desirable.

"You have to care about where you live," McKinney believes. But city officials disagree. On Sept. 25, Mayor Kurt Schmoke grinned broadly as he announced Bobbi McKinney's home would come tumbling down. Her one remaining wish is that those same officials will let her spend at least one more Christmas there.

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