Monday, January 5, 2009

Brooklyn/Curtis Bay:Back to Main Street America

Before suburbia there were Small Towns, a few thousand people at the most living on streets that stemmed from a single main street that housed all of the Town's services. Everybody knew each other and watched over each other. That was small Town America of yesteryear, the pride and joy being Main St.Now take a City like Baltimore, Baltimore's an old city with an old infrastructure of densely developed streets that follow a classic urban grid. Before suburbia resulted in a net loss for population Baltimore's topped out at 987,000 in 1957. Today, and for the past few years the population has hovered at 640,000. Small town America and Baltimore are seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum but maybe within Baltimore there lies an example of what was once Small Town America and could hold that title yet again.
Brooklyn/Curtis Bay is just one example of how small town America has knitted its way into the fabric of Baltimore City. Built to house workers from the Fairfield Shipping yards on the Middle Branch, the water is much deeper than that of the Inner Harbor. Industry flocked to the area in droves in the late 1800s. They included Southern Baltimore Wheel Company, an Oyster packing plant (whose owner developed housing in the area too), Davison Brothers Chemical Company moved to Curtis Bay as did the Maitheson Chemical Company. Bethlehem Steel built a shipping yard here during World War I. This caused railroad service to begin constructing lines that reached Brooklyn/Curtis Bay. This connected Brooklyn/Curtis Bay to Baltimore, which it still wasn't a part of. The official annexation wasn't until 1919. The residences grew with the industry. my guess is that there were a lot of different builders because the style of houses is different on every block. You can't say it's predominantly row homes or single family homes because it's an even split. It's a checkerboard all across the two neighborhoods between row homes and single family homes. In Brooklyn retail began to grow along Patapsco Avenue and in Curtis Bay, the Pennington Avenue and Curtis Avenue couplet.Industry continued to flourish even through the great depression since most of the businesses could cater to World War II. All good things must come to an end however. I'm not saying World War II was a good thing I'm saying that the success of businesses in Brooklyn/Curtis Bay. The decentralization of jobs and the post World War II industrial slowdown sent Brooklyn/Curtis Bay into a slow decline. This is most prevalent along the communities' Main Streets and Fairfield, which is the designated name for the industrial area. The residential and retail component have been demolished.
Today the Main Streets of Brooklyn/Curtis Bay consist of vacant storefronts and businesses that give the neighborhood a poor run down image. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn/Curtis Bay have experienced decline and a rise in crime but I think their retail can be a improved upon to give the residents the oppurtunity to shop in their neighborhood and boost the perception of the neighborhood. After all a neighborhood is only as good its retail.
The biggest thing that needs to be done on the retail sector is in Curtis Bay not Brooklyn. The couplet of Pennington Avenue and Curtis Avenue should be redone. Pennington Avenue should be made into a two way street and Curtis Avenue rezoned to residential only. The intersection of Pennington and Patapsco Avenues should be upgraded to reflect this change.
Just because Brooklyn and Curtis Bay aren't wealthy neighborhoods we can certainly give their residents good neighborhood services like they had in the neighborhood's heyday. A full service grocery store at Potee St. and Patapsco Avenue. I'm thinking a MARS, they're clean and reputable but aren't over priced. That would be a perfect addition and anchor to the Brooklyn/Curtis Bay neighborhood. As for Patapsco and Pennington Avenue, we should look to the past and bring back Main Street America. New retail should include Dry Cleaners, Banks, Florists, Bakeries, Pharmacies, a Subway, a Marshalls, Sit Down Restaurants, a Book Store, a new Library, and a Bike Shop. In Brooklyn there should be a Police Substation as a crime deterrent. Retail should mimic row homes and have a residence above them. Retail that should be scaled back if not done away completely should be Dollar Stores, Laundromats, Check Cashing Places, No name Cell Phone Dealers, Bail Bondsman, Auto Oriented Businesses, Beauty Supply, "Corner" Grocery and Liquor stores. Stores should not have bars and tacky advertising in and on the windows.The streets themselves (Patapsco and Penington) would receive complete makeovers as well. They include but aren't limited; to repaving, a landsacped median, new sidewalks, brick crosswalks, bus shelters with seating, and new updated traffic signals with count down pedestrian signals. Neighborhood identification signs would also be put up where necessary. Patapsco Avenue will be narrowed down to one travel lane in each direction for on street parking. Parking meters will not be installed. With Pennington Avenue being converted to two way traffic there won't be any room for on street parking.
Away from the Main Streets of Brooklyn there is room new development. Brooklyn should be expanded to include more houses above Patapsco Avenue. There is room for infill development on Pontiac Avenue.
Above Photo From Google Earth
Last of all Brooklyn Homes the three blocks directly above Brooklyn Homes and Brooklyn Apartments should redeveloped into a mixed income development known as "Baybrook Overlook" Every low income unit in Baybrook Overlook will have a Washer and Dryer in house. In Curtis Bay there has been new development overlooking the park already. The residential reinvestment in Curtis Bay will take place along Curtis Avenue which will be rezoned to residential only. What is currently vacant storefronts will be converted to row homes once again.
There is a large vacant industrial building that spans a generous portion of Curtis Avenue that will be perfect for loft apartments.
It's safe to say that after this Brooklyn/Curtis Bay will return to its Main Street America roots. Baltimore, being a city of neighborhoods has a lot of former "Small Town America" towns within its boundaries that were built before city annexation, lets see if you can spot them.


Mike Rolling said...

"Retail that should be scaled back if not done away completely should be Dollar Stores, Laundromats, Check Cashing Places, No name Cell Phone Dealers, Bail Bondsman, Auto Oriented Businesses, Beauty Supply, "Corner" Grocery and Liquor stores. Stores should not have bars and tacky advertising in and on the windows."

You couldn't have said it better!!

Anonymous said...

The market economy works. Certain types of businesses have found a market in these neighborhoods, and the types of businesses you would prefer to move in, have not.

We do not have a centrally planned government. Business owners are generally free to open doors wherever they believe they will be successful.

Change doesn't start with trying to dictate which businesses are allowed to operate. Change starts with the people. Supply follows demand.

Spence Lean said...

Very true, but the Brooklyn/Curtis Bay Strtegic Neighborhood Action Plan
suggests that residents i.e. the market want a stonger mix of retail in their neighborhood. Long time residents remember when these neighborhood main streets thrived. There are businesses there that do well but there are many vacant store fronts that if filled neighborhood orientrd businesses like those I suggested you might be pleasantly surprised.

Anonymous said...

Well said Spence, I am the Main Street Manager for Brooklyn and work through the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition. You should check out our website at


Anonymous said...

As a resident of Brooklyn. I must agree that change will not come until the people change. This town is littered with drug addicts, prostitutes, teenage criminals, gangs and others.

The community seems to have a great solution: move away. When things get tough in a neighborhood the famalies should come together instead of running away.

I have lived in Brooklyn for most of my life and I have seen it over and over again. When crime starts to "settle" in one particular location you will see the homes go up for sale. Now I have lived on what used to be the nicest block on 8th Street. The homes were lived in by the homeowners. The majority of the owners were up in age and since have passed. Now the homes are being sold, the new owners will rent to who ever has cash! You know why? Because they don't live here. I am tired of these owners not giving a shit.

Then you have the kids. What do we have here to help lead kids in the right direction? Nothing. The community association says there are tons of things for kids. That is crap. What are they? A park that is filled with drunks, drug addicts shooting up, prostitutes with their johns. Oh yeah I feel real comfortable taking my kids there. HA.

The worst part of this all. Everyone is so tired of all of the nonsense that they have given up & NEVER SEE CHANGE COMING!

Bill Lehman said...

I have just 2 questions

1 Anonymous, what have you done to improve the community.

2 Why are you anonymous?

Spence Lean said...

I'm not Anonymous my name is Spence Lean

Anonymous said...

I recently moved to brooklyn and the sad thing is that it as well as curtis bay seems 2 be forgotten what about a greenier b more i mean for those who are trying to figure it out its very fustrating to work and the come home to a disguisting enviroment rats in the summer as well as trash that only gets picked up when they feel like oh 4got look outside now not the stadium huh this place is disguisting and i do try me as well as 3 other neighbors try real hard to keep it clean but its hard well ur comminty leaders do nothing they label us by the area thats not fair and for some of us we are left paying the price stores should not be an issue what the hell people are losing their jobs anyway and like the other comment make people responsible for people i believe GOD put us all here to look out for each other im tired of people gettin ova its time to reconize we need each other and people just need to be held accountable all we have is right now who really cares please if its you or anybody then its starts with you because while they are reporting all over the damn city i never senn my area on the news for nothing but bad things and its sad we are broken as people and you want stores for what an insurance claim after a break in wow

Anonymous said...

hey spence look outside can you picture a store how about a side walk a parking space mail truck spence did you take pics of this great new brooklyn\curtis bay reminds you of what spence whats your vision is it aspen with a little strip mall

Anonymous said...

It would be great if Brooklyn could be improved and brought back to life with friendly, clean and safe neigborhoods like it used to be. I grew up in Brooklyn many years ago and it just broke my heart when I saw how decayed Brooklyn has become. I sure do miss my old neighborhood and the way it use to be. Once a neighborhood is broken, it is nearly impossible to repair. First you would need to get all the prostitutes,drug addicts,and criminals out of your neighborhoods. Then and only then could you start to rebuild your community. I wish you all well.

Anonymous said...

Neighborhoods are about connect the dots.
If Baltimore would have located the Horseshit Casino in a distressed neighborhood like Brooklyn, Curtis bay, or even Cherry hill developers would have invested in these neighborhoods also.
Baltimore's corrupted officials are only concerned with development of their crowned Inner Harbor area.
Take a look at the Hampden area. That area has sky rocketed mainly because of the influence of Johns Hopkins University.

Homeowner in Brooklyn,

Anonymous said...

growing up in curtis bay in the 50's and 60's i have seen a lot of change, most of it political, baltimore leaders needed someplace to dump and direct heavy polluter to and there sat curtis bay. as curtis bay declined brooklyn wasn't far behind one community depended on another for shopping, movies buying cars and social gathering with the bdc putting bad choice companies and people moving out as the supermarkets left it became less convient for older people. the death knell was when the federal govt plans to convert the housing projects in brooklyn to senior citizen and handicap living went awry when schmoke needed a place to send the residents from the high rises downtown, we got the worst of the worst drug dealers pimps prostitutes crimes escalated and people in fear that their kids may get hurt or involved moved out. I have personally been to many community meeting and tried to turn things around but the politicians have no interest in investing in a community that didn't vote for them. Brooklyn had a wonderful main street and curtis bay had its corner stores and resturants. There is a lot of potential in these two communities but you'll never hear the mayor or top official saying that. Money has a way of going to other places. Can you imagine 1 billion dollars being spent of curtis bay and brooklyn like it was spent on the sandtown winchester area. Put our tax dollars where it will do the most good and not what is politically correct.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in this area for over 50 years and I can tell you that the city needs to put the roads back the way they were. As far as the community center, that's a joke. I told this to an official because this is just a sewing circle for the council man. I would rather see them concentrate on clean up and restoration of this historical area. The change came about because officials years ago decided it was easier to push the drug problems from the city into Brooklyn/Curtis Bay due to, as it was told to me by multiple police officers over the years, (it's easier to rush into the projects or troubled area and forcing them onto Patapsco Ave. were we just sit and wait and snatch them up. The county exits was patrolled by county police.) Sorry I can't divulge what admin.did this. This act was totally political to avoid negative input towards the Mayors adm. because they could not stop the problem in the city so they pushed to "Guess Were" yep. Me personally, I would rather separate from the city/county and set it up as a township, commonwealth
Ex:1.Different subdivisions exist at different levels. For example, the United States is divided into "states", "commonwealths", "territories", and one "district". Each state is further subdivided into "counties", "divisions", or "parishes". In the states I've spent most of my life in, counties are further sub-divided into "townships". (I don't know off the top of my head how many states have townships versus some other subdivision.)

Spence Lean said...

The more I read about Brooklyn/Curtis Bay, the more I hear about how much the City screwed it over.

Anonymous said...

I'm 57...moved to Curtis Bay in was Brooklyn and Curtis Bay are 100% GONE !! Dropp a Atom Bomb on it...Monkies killed it it for Good !!

Spence Lean said...


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