East Baltimore memories

I remember the faded photograph my aunt kept in a place of honor in her home. My grandfather was 5, sitting atop a pony at the corner of North Patterson Park and Ashland avenues. He wore a petticoat and cap. It was about 1925.

I remember the stories about "Pop" Schoppert, my grandfather's father, making the trip from West Virginia to Baltimore to seek a better life. The trunk with which he traveled sits in the basement of my parents' house. I remember, as a child, examining it, imagining that journey. I remember writing about that journey in my law school application essay.

I remember my parents and grandparents reminiscing about the rowhouse "Pop" Schoppert bought on North Patterson Park Avenue. How "Pop" and "Mom" rented out the top floor and lived on the first, turning the living room into a bedroom. I remember the look in my father's eyes as he spoke of Sunday afternoons in that tiny rowhouse.

I remember the first time my grandfather showed me the alley behind 904 North Patterson Park where, growing up, he played baseball with the neighborhood boys.

I remember people on their stoops on summer nights on North Patterson Park. Children playing, the feeling of a living city, my great-grandparents' house alive. It was about 2008.

I remember the first time I drove past 904 North Patterson Park and saw it was boarded up. Some teenage boys said they remembered when the block was alive. "A lot of history here," they said.

I remember taking my then-boyfriend, now-husband, to see 904 North Patterson Park. We parked the car in the alley my grandfather had played in and walked through the backyard. I shared my family's stories as we peered through the holed wall to the once-kitchen.

I remember, as a new attorney, doing property research and discovering that the city owned the boarded-up house at 904 North Patterson Park. I remember reading EBDI's Articles of Incorporation and discovering that 904 North Patterson Park was in Hopkins' "footprint."

I remember seeing the signs near Ashland Avenue and Eager Street saying a "community" school was to be built there, then reading that the school was somewhat modeled on the University of Pennsylvania partnership school in West Philadelphia.

I remember, as an urban studies major at the University of Pennsylvania, learning how controversial the partnership school was. How the university used the school to attract young professors. How many neighborhood kids might not get in.

I remember an email from Hopkins my then-fiance, now-husband received when he was a Hopkins PhD student, preparing to be a professor. It encouraged graduate students and professors to consider sending their children to Hopkins' new school.

I remember learning about EBDI's "marketing strategy" to make the surrounding neighborhood "less scary" for prospective students and professionals.

I remember the first article by Lionel Foster I read in Urbanite magazine. His ambivalence about his grandmother's house in East Baltimore being torn down. I quoted him in a law school seminar paper critiquing Baltimore's economic development "strategies." I remember my classmates' thoughtful responses.

I remember an EBDI supporter touting the project's unequivocal success to a bus of urban planners from around the country. I remember shaking nervously as I shared with the group that the project had displaced 800 families. I remember the Baltimore professor who pulled me aside and said, "Thank you. That needed to be said."

I remember the passion in the eyes of the minister who lived above the church at 900 North Patterson Park as he organized neighbors to try to save the block.

I remember the somber look on the face of the neighbor who told me the minister had been trapped when the city-hired contractor fenced him in his house while preparing the block for demolition, not realizing someone lived there.

I remember the first time I drove by 904 North Patterson Park and there was nothing there. It was 2012.

I remember. My father and my aunt, those teenage boys, the minister, and the professor remember. We remember the people who lived here, walked up the marble steps into their humble homes every evening after work, raised their children, sat on their stoops.

I remember Lionel Foster's first column in the Sun. I remember a glint of hope that perhaps those who don't share our memories might nonetheless learn to respect them. That they might look in the eyes of those teenage boys and see the possibility in the culmination of generations of Baltimoreans.

Christina L. Schoppert was a staff attorney at Community Law Center in Baltimore before moving to Los Angeles in August.  Her email is christina.schoppert@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad