In the fourth of six implosions that have begun dramatically altering the face of public housing in Baltimore, the last federally subsidized high-rise project built in the city crumbled yesterday with the help of 400 pounds of explosives.
Twenty-story Hollander Ridge fell quickly, like melting concrete, to form a pile of rubble and a thick, brown cloud of dust. Within about 10 seconds of the first detonation at the complex on the city-Baltimore County line, the structure was gone. The implosion drew less fanfare and spectators than others that began the public housing transformation five years ago.
On the city's eastern border between Interstate 95 and Pulaski Highway, the 1,000-unit project had been the focus of contention between public officials and residents. The division was symbolized by an 8-foot-tall green fence that the Housing Authority erected in 1996 to enclose Hollander Ridge and block entry into Rosedale. For anyone who missed the distinction between city and county, black and white, poor and middle-class, there was the name of the road between Hollander Ridge and its neighbors: Boundary Avenue.
Some in Rosedale couldn't have been happier to see the bricks tumble.
"I finally got Rosedale back in a minute," cried Gisella Frisone, 50, as she fell to her knees moments after the 8:45 a.m. implosion.
"I've been waiting for 25 years for this. I told you I was going to run you out," she said, gesturing toward the building.
She had been one of the most outspoken against the low-income housing project in the predominantly white, working-class neighborhood of single-family homes.
Now, the fence for which she lobbied surrounds only the dusty remains of what was the city's second-largest public housing development and what was home to nearly 4,000 people. Twisted water heaters, crushed concrete walls and a lone, half-inflated rubber ball remind onlookers of the former community of residents who were moved to other homes throughout the city. Most of the 92 other buildings that made up the complex, including 522 townhouses, have been removed.
As city Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne described the event as a "glorious day for Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the state of Maryland," former Hollander Ridge resident Schrae Davis, 36, was moved to tears. She raised two children during her 15 years at Hollander Ridge.
"There's nothing glorious about this," she said, as the commissioner spoke to the crowd of dignitaries, former residents and media members. "That's my home. ... If I could move back, it'd be all right. I never wanted to move out in the first place."
Though former residents talk of a close community, most admit that the Hollander Ridge they vacated was much changed from the tower of promise and the neatly kept townhouses that opened in 1976. The last residents were relocated in February.
"It really got bad at the end, but at first it was really nice here," said Mary West, 61, who moved to Hollander Ridge in April 1977. "It was beautiful. Everyone got along."
By the time she moved out last September, the community had become marred by crime.
In Rosedale, where "Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" signs are more common than lawn ornaments, residents tell of rocks thrown at them through the fence, and of vandalism, litter, robberies and drug-dealing that spilled into their community and deflated property values.
Tina and Robert Jones, also of Rosedale, said they never had problems with Hollander Ridge and think race was an issue. Some of their neighbors "just didn't like the idea of a black community over there," Tina Jones said.
Payne, however, blamed the bad blood between Hollander Ridge and Rosedale on the design of the project, which concentrated residents away from the surrounding community.
The 59-acre parcel is going to be rebuilt as Arbor Springs Village, a 450-unit development of affordable senior housing.
The $6 million demolition, including the $600,000 implosion by Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp. of Tulsa, Okla., is part of a series of public housing revitalizations transforming the high-rise, high-density models that became popular in the 1950s into lower-density developments for owners with a wider range of incomes.
Two more aging communities, Broadway Homes and Flag House Courts, will be imploded in August and October, respectively.
Videotape of the implosion is available at www.sunspot.net.