Baltimoreans don't usually get awards just for living in their own houses, but that's what Little Italy resident John Pente will receive today. Pente, 99, and his relatives are the first recipients of the "Centennial Homes" award, created to recognize families that have lived in the same residence for 100 years or more.

In an effort to promote and reward stewardship of local homes and neighborhoods, the city of Baltimore has joined with a nonprofit preservation group, Baltimore Heritage Inc., to identify "Centennial" families and honor them. Organizers say the program is the first of its kind in the nation.

"We know that farms have been recognized this way, but as far as we know, no other city has honored a family for living in the same house for 100 years," said Baltimore Heritage Executive Director Johns Hopkins.

The program also provides a way to "put a human face on preservation," said Hopkins, who has fought his share of battles to save old buildings from the wrecking ball. "Preservation is often seen as being only about bricks and mortar, but the Centennial Homes program is about the important role that individuals and families play in shaping and preserving neighborhoods," he said.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the average American will move more than 11 times in his or her lifetime, he noted. "We're honoring people who are anything but average."

Pente will receive a bronze plaque to put on his three-story, end-of-row house in the 200 block of S. High St. and a framed certificate of appreciation signed by Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Councilman James Kraft and Baltimore Heritage President Will Backstrom. The ceremony will begin at Pente's residence at 8:30 p.m. - just before the Little Italy Open Air Film Festival presents a movie at High and Stiles streets. Pente's house is used to project the films.

A retired machinist for the old Western Electric Co., Pente said his grandparents bought the 11-room house in 1904 after moving from Italy. Ownership then passed to his uncle and father, he said, and he has lived there all of his life.

Pente said he never thought about living anywhere else. He said relatives check on him daily, and he has benches in front of his house for neighbors who want to sit and chat. "I have all my friends here," he said. "I have my church here. I have my family here. I have everything I need right here."

The idea for the awards program came from Kraft, a member of Baltimore's preservation commission. When Kraft was campaigning door to door, Hopkins said, he met a number of families that have lived in the same house for decades and wanted to find a way to recognize them for helping keep neighborhoods strong.

Hopkins said the Pente family is the first of three that will receive the award this year, along with the Baynes family of Canton and the Kaszac family of Fells Point. Others can be nominated by contacting Baltimore Heritage at 410-332-9992.

Events such as today's are the opposite of the angry battles preservationists sometimes wage, Hopkins said. "We often get into the headlines when we fight to save a building. This is a way to thank people who are preserving our city and our neighborhoods."

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