Rainbow a symbol of rebirth in Druid Hill


THEY BROUGHT back a rainbow at Druid Hill Park two nights ago, and everybody called this a great symbol of the city's rebirth. They were partly right. There were maybe 300 people gathered by the great reservoir there, and it was dark, and such a thing is not supposed to happen. Muggings are supposed to happen after dark. This is part of our municipal folklore. But the mood was utterly serene, and the crowd included delighted children, and people of all colors, and such facts take us beyond mere symbols.

After a five-year absence, they turned on the fountain at the park's reservoir. Water shoots high into the air, and it changes colors every half-minute or so. A rainbow, spectators declared as they gathered at the water's edge Wednesday night. Everybody else can see it now from Druid Park Lake Drive as they speed past on the way to suburbia.

Or not. Maybe they take the new beauty of the lake as a symbol, and maybe they slow down enough to notice what else is happening near the light of the fountain. The neighborhoods around the park are continuing to come back. In Reservoir Hill, we had years where the drug dealers killed everything. They killed each other at random and in the process killed buildings and entire streets. Century-old mansions were gutted and boarded. Victorian-era brownstones went deserted and cancerous. The grand apartment buildings overlooking the lake, with views designed by God, had ghosts clanking through their interiors and trash lying in untended weeds outside.

But slowly, over the past several years, comes much sign of hope. Those big apartment buildings overlooking the lake have now been restored. Deeper into Reservoir Hill, rehabbing is general, and streets once broken and bleeding are now offering homes at six-figure prices.

"There's scaffolding everywhere," Bradley Grant was saying Wednesday night. Grant, a retired health care administrator, moved to Eutaw and Whitelock streets from Annapolis. In the past several decades, who ever heard of such a notion, middle-class people running toward Eutaw and Whitelock?

But Grant stood there in the darkness, minutes before the fountain was reborn Wednesday, and LaVerne Fields, from the Lakeside Improvement Association, stood near him.

"The last eight people who have moved into the neighborhood," said Grant, "have moved here from out of town. From Washington, from New York, from Jersey, from Philly. They hear that this is a neighborhood that's coming back, and there are tremendous buys. And this fountain signals that the renaissance of this area is in full swing."

"It's booming," Fields said. "There are tremendous changes going on. In the park, too. It's in better shape than it's been in years. People from the neighborhood come here to picnic. It's cleaner here, and so is the neighborhood."

Then there was Nathaniel Freeman, who heads the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, on the west side of the park. He was raving about improvements there. And on Auchentoroly Terrace, directly adjacent to the park's west side, there are reports of a dynamic housing market.

So the new rainbow in the lake is a nice symbol -- but there's more than symbolism around Druid Hill Park.

"The area has a reputation," said City Council President Sheila Dixon, standing in Wednesday's big nighttime crowd. "But there's a new reality at work now."

"The fountain," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, "is a sign of a real comeback."

"This neighborhood looked forlorn and forgotten for a long time," said Harry X. Peaker, president of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. "We hope to make it the grand place it once was."

At the end of such huzzahs, there is still considerable distance to go. Yesterday, for example, the light of day shows a street such as the 2400 block of Lakeview Avenue. It runs just off the east end of the reservoir. As it happens, my wife grew up at 2445 Lakeview, a little three-story apartment building.

But the building was shut down some years back and remains so today. And that's just a beginning. On that entire side of the street, there are 13 more homes that are abandoned and boarded up, including 10 in a row. Only three row homes are occupied. The block's feel is slightly ghostly.

But, across much of the neighborhood, it is not. The streets generally have a well-scrubbed look. The homes are spiffy and the yards well kept. The sound of hammering is heard repeatedly as homes are brought back to livability.

At the nighttime gathering Wednesday in the park, Bradley Grant said a few words to the big crowd. He was one of those who nagged the city to turn the fountain back on.

"You know," Mayor O'Malley said, introducing him, "today is Mr. Grant's birthday."

To which the crowd broke into a spontaneous chorus of "Happy Birthday." It was aimed at Grant, but the sound carried across the water and into Reservoir Hill, which is feeling its own sense of rebirth.

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