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Pen Lucy's 'haunted house' gives way to create hope for young homeless

Take a last look at the old white house at 4201 York Road, now marked by broken windows, a collapsing porch and unruly trees.

In a few weeks, the wreckers will arrive, and the house, along with the frame cottage next door, will be gone. A third structure fronting 43rd Street is also scheduled for demolition.

Structures are torn down all the time in Baltimore, but this white house is notable: It looks haunted.

It seems larger than it actually is because it sits atop a hill. There's a wrought-iron gate and a flight of steep steps leading up from York Road. The white columns around its porch make it appear more impressive than its neighbors in the Pen Lucy neighborhood.

There's a clue to its past above its front door. A leaded-glass transom reads "Moran Funeral Home." The patch of green that surrounds the house became overgrown long ago. The untended vines and trees add to the site's eerie atmosphere.

The Moran story goes back decades. Its owner, John Moran, started out with an establishment at Bank and Ann streets in Fells Point, then moved in 1919 to 3000 E. Baltimore Street near Patterson Park.

Moran had his uptown mortuary here on York Road at 42nd Street. Tax records list the house's date of construction as 1890. The Enoch Pratt Free Library found a record of funerals being held at the house as early as 1926. It last functioned as a funeral home in the 1970s. It then became a private residence, and there is evidence that squatters lived there more recently.

The structures to be razed are in such deplorable condition that both Second Chance and Details, the salvage operations, found nothing to claim. But in this desolate spot will rise a structure offering hope of a new life to others.

The property was acquired in 2015 by the AIDS Interfaith Residential Services and its affiliate, Empire Homes. Architects Cho Benn Holback have designed a 42-unit brick apartment house planned as a southern anchor for the York Road Partnership and its member neighborhoods.

The complex will be built for formerly homeless 18- to 24-year-olds, and it will be known as Restoration Gardens 2.

"This is a time of psychological and social development. It's also a a dangerous time for a young person in Baltimore if they don't have stable housing or a safe place to live," said Empire Homes' Daniel Kamenetz.

"We want this to be a transformative experience," he said. We will have counselors on the site and there will be training events and an extended network of referral services. Our mission is to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing."

The studio apartments will rent for $800 but the residents will never pay more than 30 per cent of their income.

"Typically, the residents comes to us with no income or little income," said Kamenetz.

Empire selected the York Road corridor because it has bus routes, grocery stores and libraries nearby.

"No one was using the space because the land is too difficult," Kamenetz said. "It will require expensive heavy excavation."

He praised the seller, a Towson University professor, David Greene, who offered the property for $32,000.

"Mr. Greene supported our mission, and that's what made the deal possible," Kamenetz said.

"We are welcoming Restoration Gardens in our community because there is a huge need for places like this in our city," said the Rev. Craig Gerriott of the nearby Faith Christian Fellowship. "I believe the new building will be a beautiful edifice for the neighborhood."

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