Like many of my Charles Village neighbors, I was caught off-guard when a news article detailed how the old A.D. Anderson property on 25th Street is being promoted for a Lowe's hardware complex. Could it be that national retailers are returning to Baltimore after years of trading miles away from city residents?
The change might have happened when Target opened at Mondawmin last year. That's was a start. After all, it's been nearly 30 years since Sears closed its handy North Avenue store. In those unfortunate years, the department stores, and all the ancillary businesses we knew along Howard Street died. If you wanted to do serious shopping, you had to point a car in the direction of the suburbs.
The Lowe's announcement surprised me, but a closer look reveals this part of Baltimore has been undergoing a quiet, steady transformation for a decade. One of its competitors, an Ace hardware store, opened in nearby Waverly this summer, filling a void. After all, city houses need plumbing parts, coats of paint and garbage cans, too, but, if you wanted these goods, you had to be prepared to travel.
I can't say what is fueling all this, but here are a few thoughts. Could it be the under-the-radar presence of the Johns Hopkins University? Ever since its Whiting School of Engineering moved into the old Stieff Silver complex (not so far from the Lowe's site), I noticed a stabilization of the Remington neighborhood where Lowe's might be headed. Is it the students and faculty, or the reuse of the many older structures and factories in this area?
What about the Hopkins presence at the old Eastern High complex? Let's not forget the American Brewery, either. It is distant from 25th Street, as is the whole Hopkins redevelopment in East Baltimore, but all this makes for a customer base for a national retail business.
I also count as indicators the changes fanning out along the neighborhoods adjacent to the Jones Falls Valley, in Reservoir Hill, Hampden and around Penn Station. I credit the community-led efforts to clean up and appreciate the valley, its stream, trails and hillsides. I also observe increased recreational use of Druid Hill Park. More could be achieved, but what has happened is remarkable, particularly to anyone familiar with these areas in the 1970s.
Personally, I regard as a major marker the financial confidence exhibited in the upgrading of so many small homes in Remington. I see other parts of Baltimore being abandoned; not here. There's a lot going on in Remington, but it doesn't advertise itself. It just seems to happen.
There are many pieces in an often confusing midtown Baltimore real estate puzzle that are now beginning to make sense. The busy Safeway at Charles and 25th streets occupies part of the site of, the old Chesapeake Cadillac Co. The Lab School recently acquired the old Goucher Hall; the former St. Ann's parochial school is now the Mother Seton Academy. I was beginning to think I'd never live to see an old factory at 26th and Howard restored. It's now Miller's Court and a major neighborhood amenity.
The Lowe's site in the southern end of Remington is a fascinating place that mixes rowhouses around industrial zoning. Historically, it's also been a neighborhood of transportation: automobiles, freight trains and, at one time, streetcars.
So now we face a future where lumber, garden hoses and patio furniture might be sold from a building (the Anderson showroom) that once housed the streetcars that carried the residents of Guilford, Remington and Charles Village to work, school and, yes, shopping.