Edward Vincent Rutkowski, a retired electrical engineer who led the revitalization and economic stabilization of neighborhoods around Patterson Park, died of cardiac arrest Thursday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Southeast Baltimore resident was 72.
“No one has come close to accomplishing what he did in Patterson Park,” said Baltimore City director of planning Chris Ryer. “He changed a whole neighborhood’s economic market. He bought and then sold hundreds of houses and preserved the neighborhood’s stability.”
Born in Baltimore and raised on Conkling Street in Highlandtown, he was the son of Edward Rutkowski, a pharmacist, and his wife, Dorothy Koehler, who ran the drugstore after her husband’s death. He attended Sacred Heart of Jesus School and was a 1965 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. He earned an engineering degree at the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland.
Mr. Rutkowski joined IBM and became a manager in software development. While there, he helped create an early electronic typewriter-word processor. He held posts in Boston and Rochester, Minn., where he met his future wife, Kay Anderson. They later lived in Gaithersburg and Lexington, Ky.
In 1986 Mr. Rutkowski decided he wanted to get back to Baltimore and moved to a three-story rowhouse on East Baltimore Street across from Patterson Park.
He joined United Parcel Service as a software developer and and worked to make drivers’ routes more efficient. He also worked in creating electronic signatures.
From his new home, he observed changes in Southeast Baltimore that alarmed him.
A 2010 Sun article said he saw “once-solid streets declining, with drug dealers, prostitutes and slumlords taking over as longtime residents fled. Vacant houses were both a cause and an effect. So he and three neighbors started buying the properties.”
He left UPS and concentrated on making Patterson Park more economically stable. In 1996, with the help of volunteers and community representatives, he formed the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation.
He later co-wrote a book, “The Urban Transition Zone: A Place Worth a Fight."
Charles B. Duff, the president of Jubilee Baltimore, said: “I don’t know anyone who has done more good for Baltimore than Ed. If he had never founded and brilliantly run the Patterson Park CDC, I’m convinced that there would be 5,000 more vacant houses in Baltimore than there are, and the belt of disinvestment and dilapidation would now extend south of Patterson Park.”
Mr. Duff, who served as Mr. Rutkowski’s board chair, recalled him as an engineer who worked out solutions based on trial and error.
Mr. Rutkowski analyzed the neighborhood’s problem and went on to hire 25 employees responsible for buying, renting or reselling hundreds of houses. His goal was to turn these the blocks around economically by controlling the neighborhood’s real estate.
"It’s controlling the real estate to keep it out of the hands of the slumlords," he said in a 2006 Sun article.
The article went on say: “He is able to turn out a first-class version of clean, modern design in 1900-era row houses ... [with] fireplaces; stainless steel and turned wire appointments; staircases that look like an architect’s fantasy. These are not working-class, side-street homes anymore, but when you step outside, there is no mistaking you are in Baltimore.”
Friends said Mr. Rutkowski also realized the worth of the Patterson Park greensward as a neighborhood amenity. A swimmer, he participated in the first Patterson Park water ballet.
“Ed realized that if we programmed Patterson Park with activities, it was a marketing strategy,” said Will Backstrom, a senior vice president at PNC Bank and a former co-worker. “Ed liked to take risky strategies. He was not a conventional community development person. He was an engineer and a person who cultivated diverse ideas.”
His group ultimately rebuilt 400 houses, which contributed to the economic well-being of a larger area.
“More important, though, it saved about 5,000 houses worth of Baltimore, and Ed achieved his dream of a vibrant neighborhood that is open to everybody,” Mr. Duff said.
After achieving a goad of neighborhood real estate stabilization, Mr. Rutkowski took on another goal: urban education.
After the closing of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary School facing Patterson Park, he founded the Patterson Park Public Charter School and served for 10 years as its executive director. The school is located in the former Catholic school.
He later worked with Park Heights Renaissance Inc., a Northwest Baltimore program.
A prayer service will be held at noon Tuesday at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church, 2638 E. Baltimore St. A visitation beginning at 10 a.m. precedes the service.
In addition to his wife of more than 50 years, a retired nurse, survivors include his brother, Michael Rutkowski of Washington, D.C.; and two sisters, Jean Hoffman and Martha McGriff, both of Chattanooga, Tenn.