Friday, April 24, 2009

Old Movie Houses:Just One Life to Live

Ever been to the Movies? Well of course you have, who hasn't? Now have you been to the movies in Baltimore? Well of course you.........probably haven't at least any time recently. This post will discuss everything movie theater related whether it be films or theater they show and how both can be strengthened and how they got to be where they are today.
Perhaps the biggest problem with older American Cities that are trying to regain population lost in the latter part of the 20th century is trying to appeal to suburbanites while at the same time not turning in to a suburb itself. One fundamental difference (of many) between cities and suburbs is how one goes to the movies. The suburban trend has been and will continue to be bigger. Bigger Theatres which play multiple movies at the same time. These are called "multiplexes" the number of theatres in a multiplex can range from two to twenty two. Baltimore, did not catch on to this trend in revitalization attempts. Baltimore in its hey day had lots of "Movie Houses" all through out its neighborhood's Main Streets which as their name suggests only has one theater that played one movie at a time.
Baltimore may be lacking in the Cinema sector of Theatre but it has a vibrant and healthy live theatre community with venues throughout the City.
They include the Hippodrome, The Merrick Opera House, and the Everyman Theatre in
Downtown's Westside.(coming soon, currently in Station North
Mount Vernon also plays host to several Theatres including Center Stage, The Lyric Opera House, Run of the Mill Theatre, and The Spot Light Theatre. Fels Point and Greektown house the Corner Theatre and Toby's Dinner Theatre respectively. In both the Charles North and State Center Master Plans there are plans for a live theatre.
Now back to Cinemas. Baltimore is in danger (again) of losing its last Movie House; The Senator. The Senator, although its attendance is lacking has a lot of support from Baltimore Movie Buffs. Whenever the Senator is in trouble residents and businesses alike pull together to put the Senator back on track. There is talk of the City stepping in to save the Senator from its current financial woes. One thing that puzzles me is if the Senator has such a large fan base why is business so slow? My theory is that only showing one film at a time, the audience is limited to people who only want to see that particular film and fans of the Senator have to wait until it shows a film that they like. That right there is the explanation for the demise of the Movie House and the rise of the Multiplex; something for everyone. There is another former Movie House that decided to expand in 1999 from one screen to five.
That theatre is the Charles and its expansion marked the birth of "Station North" an arts and entertainment district that has become a trendy hot spot.
Now the Senator is a relic, a dinosaur if you will. Baltimore was once full of Movie Houses from Lauraville to Violetville. They include the Hamilton, The Walbrook, The Pimlico, The Patterson, The Royal (Upton), The Parkway Theater (Station North), The Paradise(Fels Point), The Federal (Federal Hill), Eureka (Hollins Market), Ideal (Hamden) The Broadway, The Bridge, (Edmondson Avenue), The Waverly, McHenry (South Baltimore), The Gilmor (Sandtown Winchester), Roosevelt (Mount Vernon) Forest Park, Pennington (Curtis Bay), Echo (Locust Point), The Fredrick (Irvington), Lafayette (Harlem Park, The Hampden, The Edmondson, The Flag (Riverside), Dunbar (Washington Hill), The Harford (Lauraville), The Fairmount (Canton), and the New Gem (Buthchers Hill) The were dozens more located throughout Downtown, Pennsylvania Avenue, and North Avenue, too many to name them all.
There are two underlying themes in this post. The first is that Old Movie Houses are only fit to be just that, Movie Houses. Their Architecture won't support any other uses. Plenty of old Movie Houses in Baltimore have been converted into storefront churches among other uses mostly among the retail sector. They look hideous, as much history as these old Movie Houses have they should be torn down or renovated drastically to fit the needs of their current function if any. With the Royal, the Theatre was torn down and Marquis was saved. In Forest Park one was torn down in favor of a Walgreens Pharmacy.
In Highlandtown one was torn down in favor of the Southeastern Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. I'm not against saving Old Movie Houses in fact it would be nice if some were converted back to Movie Houses like the Walbrook which is still standing but is currently a Store Front Church. However, we've got to face facts that this nostalgic era of Baltimore's past is just that; the past. Old Movie Houses only have one life to live.
Edmondson Village took a stab at the Multiplex idea in the 1950s but they ultimately closed.
The second underlying theme of this post is that despite the demise of Old Movie Houses in Baltimore we still have to look forward and be innovative to fill the retail gap left by Old Movie Houses. This means that Baltimore has to build more Multiplexes throughout the City. Now Multiplexes are a product of Suburbia with their acres of surface parking and the "Big Box" design of the buildings themselves. This is where the innovative thinking comes into play. After all, we do not want Baltimore to become a suburb of itself in fact the higher the density, the better. Can Baltimore have its cake and eat it too?
It already took its first bite with the opening of the Landmark Theaters in Harbor East. It shares a building with a Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites with either Offices or Apartments Above. Now this the way to do it. I'm proposing several other locations throughout the City to build multiplex Theaters with varying density. Some will be in lower density suburban style shopping centers while others will be part of the high density urban grid. My suggested locations include;Southside Shopping Center,
Mondawmin Mall, Mount Clare Junction,
Reisterstown Road Plaza, Edmondson Village (again), Belair Road, Orangeville (After the Redline is built),the Westside of Downtown (where the Mayfair is it will use the old Marquis),
and Eastern Avenue. Notice these locations are not near the Charles or the Senator.

Well Old Movie Houses may only have one life to live but their legacy will live on in the form of Multiplexes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

East Baltimore: Streamlining the Gentrification

East Baltimore is having and has had a number of different gentrification projects over the years. They have been met with great success and will continue to as the years go by. One problem with East Baltimore is that these projects are a patchwork and don't spill out into the greater community leaving other parts of the community to continue to operate in shambles. What this post will do is identify what can be done fix this and unite East Baltimore as a Community with homes and businesses new and old all of which will thrive.

As I've stated previously, the disinvestment of East Baltimore can traced back to the down fall of its major employers; Bethlehem Steel, Canneries, Breweries, and Ship Yards. One constant anchor to the Community has been and will continue to be Johns Hopkins Hospital. However, it hasn't done much to curb the disinvestment of its surroundings until very recently.
East Baltimore has played host to several Public Housing Developments over the years some of which still exist while others have been demolished. This has resulted in the patch work of gentrification and blight I discussed earlier because the public housing developments were located right next to each other rather than spread out. The first development to hit the wrecking ball was Lafayette Courts, a high rise development that was replaced with the town home and low rise senior building known as Pleasant View Gardens.
Pleasant View Gardens (PVG) was met with mostly positive reviews but not having enough of an income mix is posing problems.
That's why when Broadway Homes (southeast of PVG) and Flag House Courts (a few blocks south of PVG) were redeveloped their finished products; Broadway Overlook andAlbemarle Square respectively contained a much broader income mix and have become the bench mark for mixed income communities.
Broadway Overlook's average median income has sky rocketed since its 2004 completion it also incorporated the recently shuttered Church Hospital in the form of mid rise apartments and a community focal point.
In the immediate vicinity of these new developments lie several old and blighted developments which have not benefited from the redevelopment of their neighbors. Some will be demolished while others may be demolished. If it's not a sure thing there is at least talk of doing so. Somerset Homes is emptied out and ready for demolition.
It is directly north of PVG, East of Forest St. Apartments, and west of three Schools; Paul Laurence Dunbar High, Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle, and Thomas G. Hayes Elementary. Thomas G. Hayes Elementary has closed, Dunbar High's Athletic Fields are northwest of the School and the School itself is under capacity.When redeveloping Somerset Homes all these factors need to taken into consideration. In my School Facilities Update post, Dunbar High will receive a massive renovation and redistricting to bring it back up to full capacity. Its athletic fields will go on the roof to save space. Thomas G. Hayes Elementary will close and Dunbar Middle will close (in my plan). In my plan Forest St. Apartments will be demolished with Somerset Homes as will Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Dunbar Middle. They will all be part of a new high density development of market rate apartments and condos with underground parking and ground floor retail known as "Hopkins Pointe." The current Dunbar Athletic Fields will be cut in half be letting Aisquith St. run through it. One side will be a public square known as "Oldtown Square" and the other will be a Dog Park.

Speaking of Oldtown, no conversation about East Baltimore will complete with bringing up Oldtown Mall. Oldtown Mall, is a desolate Outdoor Pedestrian Mall where Gay St. used to run. If the buildings aren't in danger of collapsing, we can save them and back fill them with businesses that will serve the tremendous population growth from its surroundings. Gay St. will reopen to cars. If not, they will have to be demolished and the city will lose yet another Historic Site due to neglect. West of Oldtown lies acres of surface parking lots in an area known as Penn Fallsway. With Downtown literally across the street from here I can't fathom how this hasn't been developed. Well, it's time we demolished the JFX and extended Downtown into these parking lots and ultimately connected Downtown to Hopkins. The network of streets will have to be reworked to achieve maximum density and the best traffic flow. This will be mixed use residential, office, hotel, and retail all with underground parking. This development will be called "Jones Falls Overlook." Other elements here will be a Farmer's Market that currently operates under the JFX and a Homeless Shelter because there are many homeless camps under the JFX.

Now for perhaps the most pivotal development in streamlining East Baltimore; Douglass Homes. Strategically located at the intersection of Broadway, Fayette, and Orleans Streets it ties all the new development. Think about it, every development I've discussed and will discuss borders Douglass Homes in some way.
Pleasant View Gardens (PVG)is to the west, Somerset Homes is to the northwest, The Dunbar High Campus to the north, Johns Hopkins Hospital to the northeast, Broadway Overlook to the south, and the Gateway at Washington Hill to the east. To be in scale with the developments already in place it will feature mostly two to three story town homes some with garages and/or basements some with neither. Also on Central Avenue will be a low rise Public Housing Senior Building that mirrors the one in PVG directly across the street.
One project of note near Douglass Homes is the new Enoch Pratt Free Library.
The old Charles Carroll of Carollton Elementary is located on the PVG side of Central Avenue but its redevelopment will be part of the new Douglass Homes.
The new development, will be "The Villages at Central Avenue."
Central Avenue will receive a complete makeover from Fayette St. to the Inner Harbor with streetscape enhancements including landscaped medians, brick crosswalks, bike lanes, new sidewalks with tree plantings, new sheltered bus stops, updated traffic signals, and new "count down" pedestrian signals.The previous paragraph discussed a few things where I haven't gone into full detail, allow me to do so now. First there's Johns Hopkins Hospital, the fact that it's Baltimore's largest employer has done very little for its surrounding communities, until now.
The East Baltimore Development Iniative (EBDI) is turning the neighborhood north of Hopkins (Middle East) into a Biotech Park and 1200-1500 units of new and rehabbed mixed income housing. EBDI is also looking to redevelop a couple of neighborhoods east of Hopkins known as Milton Montford and Madison Eastend.
Other neighborhoods east of Hopkins such as Patterson Park, McElderry Park, Ellwood Park/Monument, and Library Square are gentrifying on their own.
People are finding cheap boarded up homes that haven't sat vacant for very long and are gutting and rehabbing them without much outside help.
The Gateway at Washington Hill is a proposed mixed use residential, retail, office development just south of Hopkins on three vacant blocks; Baltimore St. on the south Wolfe St. on the west, Orleans St. on the north, and Washington St. on the east.
The last development to be demolished will be Perkins Homes. Like Douglass Homes, it's a vital link between redeveloped and gentrified areas of the city.
It sits in between Little Italy, Albemarle Square, Inner Harbor East, and Fels Point. Included in its demolition will be the two schools located directly north of Perkins Homes. They are; Lombard Middle which is slated to close after this school year anyway, and City Springs Elementary. As part of my plan to rebuild schools and reduce excess classroom space City Springs will be combined with other local Elementary Schools to build a brand new school.
The last cluster of East Baltimore neighborhoods I will discuss lie north of Biddle St. and South of North Avenue. They are; Berea, Broadway East, and Oliver. I don't see them benefiting much from all the new development in East Baltimore. However, I do see them benefiting from all the transit lines slated to be built. The Green Line Extension from Hopkins to meet the Purple Line which runs on the MARC tracks will turn Broadway East and Oliver into TOD districts instantly. Berea, will be a stop on the Purple Line with MARC stops at Orangeville and Penn Station within a 10 minute ride. Orangeville, an old industrial neighborhood and a preferred site for East Baltimore's MARC Station will instantly be transformed into upscale mixed use residential, retail, office, and perhaps a Boutique Hotel.
Now to effectively streamline all these new development projects one must keep in mind that there are still some old vacancies. Most of these lie in Historic Jonestown and Washington Hill. They can offered by the as $1 row homes providing the buyer rehabs the house to its former glory. If it's something bigger than a row home like an old office or industrial building it can be bought for $100 and converted into something like loft apartments. There are some beautiful vacant buildings in these areas and it would be a shame to see them hit the wrecking ball.
Now that I've streamlined the gentrification of most of East Baltimore (I purposely left some things out for a different post) all the neighborhoods can reunite with one another, after all, that's what this post was all about.