Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pennsylvania Aveune: We All Want the Same Thing

In its heyday Pennsylvania Avenue was the epicenter of Baltimore's Black Community. Anchored by the Avenue Market, the Royal Theater and the Sphinx Theater as well as countless Jazz Clubs, Restaurants, and Doctors' Offices. The surrounding area known as Old West Baltimore was a true mixed income community with the well to do Residents living in the Marble Hill area while working class Residents living closer to Downtown in what was known as the bottom. Obviously, Pennsylvania Avenue and Old West Baltimore have fallen on hard times during the past several decades but I can say with certainty that everybody wants the same thing for Pennsylvania Avenue; for it to be restored as an ares that is draw for the entire Baltimore area as a cultural haven for the Black Community Past, Present, and Future, for a revitalized Pennsylvania Avenue to act as a catalyst for population growth in Old West Baltimore as a whole, and to eradicate the crime and drugs that have plagued the area for far too long.
The downfall of Pennsylvania Avenue and all of Old West Baltimore for that matter was over crowding. As Baltimore's Black Population grew during the great migration, the amount of land in which they were allowed to live in remained the same. Larger houses were divided into apartments and in areas where public housing high rises would later be built, slum conditions began to appear. As the white flight to the suburbs began, the City Neighborhoods that Whites lived in were emptied and then Blacks, who could afford it moved in. This left only poor Blacks in Old West Baltimore and "urban renewal" efforts such as erecting public housing high rises such as McCulloh Homes and Murphy Homes as a means of slum elimination failed drastically. One by one businesses began leaving Pennsylvania Avenue leaving this once cultural mecca virtually abandoned. The good news is, there are signs of hope popping up throughout Pennsylvania Avenue that may signal a larger scale renewal of the area.
First is Heritage Crossing. Heritage Crossing was built on the site of the demolished Murphy Homes. These new Town Homes are a welcome addition to the Community and have provided a solid home ownership base for the area as a large portion of the homes are Market Rate Home Ownership. 
Next we have Bakers View, a Town Home Community in Druid Heights that's selling like Hot Cakes. These Town Homes have a starting price of $169,000 with some of them being set aside for affordable home ownership. Some of Bakers View has actual Pennsylvania Avenue frontage. Like Heritage Crossing, Bakers View is turning out to be a suburban oasis in the middle of a desert of urban decay.
Photo From City Paper
Next there is the Avenue Bakery. This may seem small but the fact that an independent business was willing to build a new building along Pennsylvania Avenue and plant a seed in the ground the way the Avenue Bakery has is huge. In fact Owner James Hamlin loves to say "It's not just about the Rolls" a big reason Mr. Hamlin has decided to build and open his Bakery that is also a a great spot for Breakfast and Brunch on Pennsylvania Avenue versus another part of town is because he's dedicated to being part of Pennsylvania Avenue's rebirth. If every vacant storefront on Pennsylvania Avenue had an entrepreneur like James Hamlin readying to invest in it, Pennsylvania Avenue would be the most sought after address in the City.
Photo From Biz
Next there's the redevelopment of the Sphinx Theater. The site of the Sphinx is set to become a Baltimore land mark once again, this time as a Sports Museum for Black Athletes. Like the Avenue Bakery this is a tremendous commitment to bringing life back to Pennsylvania Avenue from other parts of the area. Museums represent a proud history and that is something that Pennsylvania Avenue has and the more people know it, the better. It would have been great to have the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the African American History Museum on the Avenue instead of their current locations. Another Museum that should open along the Avenue could be a Museum of Black Music. 
Another great sign that Pennsylvania Avenue is poised for a turn around is that there are murals and monuments all over the place. This proves that Residents, Politicians, and everyone in between know the significance of Pennsylvania Avenue and all the history that goes along with it. There's the Royal Theater Marquis that's been rebuilt, the Billie Holiday Statue, and countless Murals on Buildings. The Murals show that the area has a flourishing Arts Community and these talented Artists should be the cornerstone of Pennsylvania Avenue's rebirth. Another way to bring the Avenue's history to life could be something along the lines of the "Hollywood Walk of Fame."
Now that I've told you the many ways Pennsylvania Avenue is beginning to show signs of life it's time to take it a step further by giving everybody what they all want; An Avenue that's once again the epicenter of the Black Community in Baltimore while at the same time drawing other parts of the City to the Avenue to eat great food, hear great music, and see great exhibits. 
The first thing to do would be to redevelop Upton Courts, at least the part that has Pennsylvania Avenue frontage. This ill fated urban renewal attempt has robbed the Avenue of opportunities to expand Retail uses and takes away from the character that the 1890s architecture provides to other parts of the Avenue. In the place of the portion of Upton Courts with Avenue Frontage will be Apartments and Condos with ground floor Retail/ Entertainment that bare the same Architecture as the original buildings that line the Avenue.          
Next we must rebuild the Royal Theater for a new generation. The Royal was the crown and jewel of Pennsylvania and all of Old West Baltimore and I think in order for the Avenue to come back strong, the Royal has to be there to anchor it. The Royal will be just one of many first run theaters and clubs that will pop along the Avenue in the future to bring back the Community that abandoned it decades earlier. Behind the Royal is what is currently Robert C. Marshall Park. Right now the park is just grass, I'd like to see it turned into a Public Square, like that found in Union Square. This new public square will be renamed "Upton Square  complete with trees, benches, and picnic space. 
New Buildings will be built, but with the exception of Upton Courts, no further buildings with Avenue frontage will be torn down. Pennsylvania Avenue is an historic district whose buildings bring out that history. If everything were new, the magic would be harder to recapture. Now there are some buildings that aren't original but will not be torn down because they serve the Community so well. such as the Upton Boxing Center, Shake & Bake Family Fun Center, and the YWCA.
A huge concern regarding the Avenue is security. There is a lot of crime that plagues the area and that has to change before Businesses and Customers alike begin flocking back in droves. This may not eradicate crime in any way but removing barred glass from windows and doors of Retail establishments will create the illusion of safety. Around the Harbor, Cops ride around on Bikes as well as foot patrols. This same kind of "face to face" Law Enforcement will help to ensure the safety of everybody around the Avenue.
Yes I can say with complete confidence that everybody wants the same thing when it comes to Pennsylvania Avenue; for it to be the epicenter of Baltimore's Black Community just like it was in its heyday and to foster population growth all around Old West Baltimore. Now it's time to get what we want.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Be glad when they actually remodel those apartments. They are a mess,and they are even worst in the inside.Not a good place to raise your children.