More than a half-century ago, the Baltimore region was in transition, beginning the patterns of growth that we take for granted today. Soon after the city’s population peaked around 1950, its residents began forsaking the old neighborhoods in search of new housing options that were sprouting up around the perimeter of the city and beyond. Roy Wagner, a dedicated photographer, documented this transition.
The transformation of farmland to suburb was accelerated by the completion of the first portion of the Baltimore Beltway in 1962. Although no one knew exactly how the new six-lane freeway would shape the region, Wagner accepted change. “Everyone liked the idea of new and better and bigger highways.”
Wagner, a spry suburbanite who turns 88 this July, became enthralled with photography as a teenager. In high school, the photo buff began working at Cooper’s Camera Mart on Harford Road, near his Hamilton home in northeast Baltimore. When he returned from army service in Korea in 1953, he became the store manager. Wagner shared his extensive photographic knowledge over a 47-year span, until his retirement as general manager in 1993. (The Hamilton store closed a decade later.) He has a large collection of vintage cameras, but no longer has the Leicas that he used to make these photographs.
The personal history of Wagner mirrors that of many Baltimoreans who migrated from the city to surrounding counties. As newlyweds, Roy and his bride, Dee, moved to a new porch-front rowhouse on Dunroming Road, off Northern Parkway. After their fifth child was born, they built their current house in a new development in Glen Arm. Wagner has adopted the adage for writers, to “write what you know,” by recording his world with a camera. These images are part of an occasional series to appear in The Darkroom.