As the grocery store, restaurants, deli, printing shop and other businesses evacuated the Park Heights neighborhood, Polly H. Warren watched her leafy "utopia" slip into urban decay.
The 30-year resident said she hoped that an informational session and bricklaying yesterday outside the future Park Heights Place senior citizens housing center meant the city would help revitalize her community.
Warren was among about 50 residents, civic leaders and investors who attended the ceremony for the center, which is being built on a vacant 1.25-acre lot at 5430 Park Heights Ave., the former site of the original Pimlico Hotel, which became a Holiday Inn.
Abandoned for almost a decade, the building, south of Northern Parkway, drew vagrants, vandals and drug dealers to what Warren said was the "ideal lot" in 1953, when the Pimlico thrived and jockeys from the nearby track camped there. Built in 1875, it was moved to the site around the turn of the century.
It operated as the Pimlico for 30 years before relocating in 1981. After its years as a racetrack hotel, it was a popular restaurant, keeping the hotel name. The restaurant was moved to the Pikesville area, but now is closed.
The Holiday Inn was torn down in 1994, followed by "four years of visions and dreams" for its future, said Jean Yarborough, 66, president of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., sponsor of the project. She said seniors are living in houses they can neither afford nor maintain, because they do not have a safe alternative in Park Heights.
"Seniors -- and I'm one of them -- have been overlooked," Yarborough said. "This is about being safe and having, for a rare change, things done for them."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who attended the ceremony, said the senior center replaces the lot's "terrible blight" and provides hope for the rest of the neighborhood to rebound.
"When Park Heights Place is finished it will provide attractive, safe, affordable housing for some of our most precious citizens," Schmoke said.
Almost two months into construction, Scott Key, project manager for Harkins Builders Inc. of Baltimore, said the four-story, 69,100-square-foot building may be completed by year's end.
Park Heights Place will offer independent living to residents 62 and older and those with physical disabilities. The 84 one-bedroom units will range in size from 550 to 724 square feet and in price from $230 to $400 a month.
The project comes with a $5.95 million price tag, paid through private and government loans. Representatives from lending banks and government agencies were on hand yesterday.
Kim English, a Parks Heights native, was one of the construction workers who helped the speakers, who wore shiny hard hats and suits, lay bricks.
English, 30, a concrete subcontractor, is one of five workers hired from the neighborhood. At least 35 percent of the work is being done by minority-owned subcontracting firms, officials said.
"This area could be improved and made whole again," Warren said.
Pub Date: 6/06/98