The inside scoop on Baltimore's booming burgs.
Baltimore from Federal Hill. -Photo by Cory Donovan
Baltimore has always been a city of neighborhoods, each with its own character and charm. Over the years, once-glorious blocks fall into disrepair, abandoned burgs are built up, people move in and move out, and the essence of a neighborhood evolves. In recent years, despite difficult economic conditions, several parts of Baltimore have grown by leaps and bounds. Harbor East, once an industrial wasteland, is now flourishing with high-end restaurants, boutiques, and condos. The once-grimy stretch of North Avenue near Penn Station has been dubbed Station North and dotted with galleries, performance spaces, and cafes. The abandoned cotton mills west of Hampden have been converted into verdant residential and commercial spaces, drawing young professionals and families. These areas—and the seven others profiled in our Hot 'Hoods package—are a testament to the resilience of our city and a road map to its vibrant future.
By day, suited Legg Mason or Morgan Stanley types cruise the Whole Foods crafting a perfect salad, then stop to look at shoes at Sassanova or Benjamin Lovell on their way back to work. They may pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at Bin 604 or lilies at The Dutch Connection before heading back to one of the condo towers nearby, like the Vue or Spinnaker Bay. By night, the city's savviest diners flock to Charleston, Cinghiale, Ra Sushi, or Lebanese Taverna before catching a flick at Landmark Harbor East—the only cinema in the city that serves cocktails.
As recently as 10 years ago, Harbor East was a dark, industrial no-man's-land between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point populated by H&S Bakery warehouses and not much else. When Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman planted their flagship restaurant Charleston on the corner of Exeter and Lancaster Streets in the late '90s, it was the beginning of a transformation. Now, a dozen restaurants share sidewalk space with upscale shops like Urban Chic and Arhaus. New residents include young business people, Hopkins and University of Maryland hospital staffers, and several current and former Orioles. The recently completed Circle at Harbor East—address of the new Legg Mason tower and the forthcoming Four Seasons Hotel—features the glittering gold Katyn Memorial (marking the murder of Poles in Soviet-occupied Poland), an important landmark in a neighborhood that only seems to be gaining in status.
The Lowdown Local Hangouts: Whole Foods (1001 Fleet St., 410-528-1640) anchors the neighborhood and, even in this foodie haven, is always the fall-back option for lunch; The massive Maryland Athletic Club (655 President St., 410-625-5000) boasts four pools, four squash courts, and babysitters to watch the kids while you work out. Median Home Price (last five years): $595,000 Most Expensive House: A three-bedroom, 3.5-bath penthouse at The Vue went for $1.6 million in 2009.
The small cluster of homes and businesses on and near Cold Spring Lane and Keswick Road have quietly separated themselves from the considerably stuffier Roland Park environs and become one of Baltimore's hippest, most charming enclaves. Students from nearby Loyola University mix easily with young, often progressive professionals and families—Obama signs dotted the landscape like locusts in 2008—on its ample sidewalks, in Stony Run Park, and along the inviting stretch of eateries along Cold Spring Lane.
The first Baltimore neighborhood to be constructed of suburban-style detached homes instead of row houses—it predates Roland Park—Evergreen's leafy environs, ample porches, and walkable access to restaurants and stores help residents strike a friendly, community-oriented vibe. Evergreen is also home to hordes of dogs and their people, all of whom love the illicit, leash-less life of Stony Run Park. And with homes both humbler and less pricey than most in greater Roland Park, there's a certain cohesive neighborhood pride that doesn't exist in many Baltimore burgs.
The Lowdown Pride of the 'Hood: Evergreen is close to some of the city's best public schools, including Roland Park Elementary/Middle (5207 Roland Ave., 410-396-6420), Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (1400 Cold Spring Ln., 410-396-7026), and Western (4600 Falls Rd., 410-467-3767). Median Home Price (last 10 years): $241,780 Most Expensive House: A six-bedroom, 3-bath home on the 4600 block of Schenley Road went for $487,905 in 2005. Overheard: "I need to pick up some organic bones for Buster and spread my compost before I head to the community association meeting."
Smack dab in the middle of the city, Bolton Hill combines everything that's great about Baltimore. A neighborhood rich in history, it has also welcomed a hip, progressive community of young artists, professionals, and families. Filled with classic 19th-century architecture, it's also home to some of the city's most avant-garde buildings. It hosts august institutions, like the Meyerhoff and the Lyric, and more forward-thinking ones, like the Maryland Institute College of Art. Site of the city's biggest annual cultural event, Artscape, Bolton Hill also holds lovely community-oriented events, like October's Festival on the Hill, which last year featured a steel-drum band, craft displays, and a whole block dedicated to creative activities for kids.
The stars of Bolton Hill are its elegant townhouses, almost all of which date back more than a century, housing everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Woodrow Wilson. Today, the homes are filled with one of the city's most diverse populations, with residences from a broad range of ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. In recent years, many of the new residents have been young families looking for a dynamic urban lifestyle. The local public school, Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle, is among the best in the city, and a new K-8 public charter school focused on community involvement, Midtown Academy, opened in 1997. "For couples looking for the true wonderful urban experience, nothing beats Bolton Hill," says Realtor and 20-year-resident Ricki Rutley.
The Lowdown Local Hangouts: Crowded with 19th-century townhouses, Bolton Hill doesn't have a lot of space for restaurants or retailers, but the superb bistro, b (1501 Bolton St., 410-383-8600), and café/market, On the Hill (1431 John St., 410-225-9667), almost make up for it. Median Home Price (2009): $311,610 Most Expensive House: A three-story Victorian townhouse on Eutaw Place with four bedrooms, two full and two half bathrooms sold for $879,000 in 2006.
Like Mt. Vernon and Bolton Hill, Fells Point is a place where you feel the weight of hundreds of years of history. The neighborhood—which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969—was one of the nation's biggest shipbuilding hubs as far back at the 18th century and has seen wave after wave of immigrants wash up on its shores, each leaving its distinct impression on the area.
Since at least the 1970s, when Bertha's, Ledbetters, and The Horse You Came In On set up shop, Fells Point has been a premier destination for nightlife. These days, the waterfront section of Fells is the rare area that exists both as tourist destination and as a living neighborhood, where blue-collar folks still live, work, and eat at places like Jimmy's Restaurant (801 S. Broadway, 410-327-3273) and the lunch counter at Vikki's Deli in the Broadway Market (1640-41 Aliceanna St., 410-276-6996).
Many of the immigrants in recent decades are Latinos, and they have largely transformed Upper Fells Point into a foodie destination, with outlets like Arcos (129 S. Broadway, 410-522-4777), Tortilleria Sinaloa (1716 Eastern Ave., 410-276-3741) and El Rinconcito Peruano (1801 E. Lombard St., 410-276-2036). As a result, the area, long considered a blighted corner of downtown, has begun to attract Hopkins professionals and young families from other areas of the city and has a bright future.
The Lowdown VIP Resident: Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Claims to Fame: Where the USS Constellation—the U.S. Navy's first ship to set sail—was built, in 1797 (not to be confused with the later USS Constellation, the last all-sail warship, which is moored in the Inner Harbor); the central setting for '90s NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street. Median Home Price (last five years): $318,028. Most Expensive House: The three-bedroom, three full and two half bathroom fifth-floor condo at 967 Fell St.—with a fireplace and two-car garage—sold for $1.7 million in 2007. Overheard: "Vamos a buscar algunos cangrejos de Sal's, hon!" ("Let's go get some crabs at Sal's, hon!")
Gretchen Shuey scoops green, organic Mexican beans from the 150-pound burlap bags that blanket the dusky wood floor of her historic Ellicott City shop, Bean Hollow. While Shuey works, customers—most of whom she knows by name—congregate for cappuccino and conversation. "People love this area because there are no chain stores on Main Street," says Shuey whose shop sits on the site of a former funeral home. "And ghosts are a big topic of conversation. People who live here really believe in them because this place has so much history."
In recent years, a new generation of young families have moved to the area, because of its accessibility to downtown and, more importantly, its small-town feel. Mom and pop shops like Ellicott's Country Store (penny candy, anyone?) and Yates Market dot the downtown district, while suburban staples like Barnes & Noble, Target, and Starbucks are kept a few miles away. "We love it when visitors from Europe come here and say this reminds them of an old European town," says Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of Howard County Tourism Council. "This place is like living in an enchanted storybook."
The Lowdown Claims to fame: Ellicott City was the largest flour-milling center in the American colonies; the Wilkins-Rogers plant is the last commercial grist mill in Maryland; America's first railroad terminal was built here to service the first 13 miles of track laid in America in 1831. Local Hangouts: The Wine Bin (8390 Main St., 410-465-7802) will host monthly movie nights this summer; Patapsco Valley State Park (8020 Baltimore National Pike, 410-461-5670) with more than 40 miles of pristine hiking trails; the Howard County Library (9421 Frederick Rd., 410-313-5577), which is one of the most-used library systems in the country. VIP Residents: H.L. Mencken summered here in 1889 and 1890; mathematician Benjamin Banneker was a native son. Median Home Price (2009): $380,000 Most Expensive House: $5.25 million for "Bushy Park Farm," a 1771, 8 bedroom, 3.5 bath historic farmhouse on Carrs Mill Rd.
A few years ago, if you asked someone about Woodberry, they would give you a puzzled look. "Oh, you mean TV Hill?" Though the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it wasn't until a few years ago that Hampden denizens and artists migrated west and made Woodberry a neighborhood of its own. During the 1890s, about 4,000 people were employed in the various cotton mills in the area. Today, many of these mills make perfect settings for galleries, shops, apartments, and offices.
In certain parts of Woodberry—with its stone houses and woodsy surroundings—it's easy to forget you're in Baltimore City. But, look closer, and hip city life abounds: dining at nationally recognized farm-to-table restaurant Woodberry Kitchen; touring the studio of renowned glass blowing artist Anthony Corradetti (2010 Clipper Park Rd., 410-243-2010); hopping on the neighborhood's Light Rail stop to head downtown; or working out at the expansive Meadow Mill Athletic Club (3600 Clipper Mill Rd., 410-235-7000). It's this best-of-both-worlds vibe that makes Woodberry the city's newest mecca.
The Lowdown Local Hangouts: The catalyst for the neighborhood renaissance was the opening of Woodberry Kitchen (2010 Clipper Park Rd., 410-464-8000), which is packed on a nightly basis and serves organic, locally grown food; if it's just a beer and a burger you're after, head to friendly sports bar Kolpers Restaurant & Lounge (1520 Clipper Mill Rd., 410-336-3267); to check out a unique art installation, go to The Amaranthine Museum (2010 Clipper Park Rd., 410-523-2574) where artist Les Harris created a labyrinth of his life's work. Median Home Price (last five years): $235,000 Most Expensive House: A three-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom green construction duplex on Woodberry Ave. sold for $761,395 in August 2008.
Lunchtime at Federal Hill's Cross Street Market is a full-contact sport. At Nick's seafood, locals swig cheap beer and chow down on fried oysters and soft-shell-crab sandwiches while several stalls over, at Big Jim's Deli, patrons sit on black bar stools and pack down mile-high hot corned beef melts oozing with Swiss and slaw. "I've been coming to this market since I was a kid," says Anna Epsilantis, who owns Big Jim's. "Last year, when this business turned 30, 140 people pitched in from the neighborhood and threw me a surprise party across the street at The 8 x 10 Club. That's the kind of place Federal Hill is. Where else are you going to find people who care so much?"
While Federal Hill has long been a destination for weekend revelers looking for a continuation of college, neighborhood residents (most of whom live primarily in late 19th-century two-and-three-story row houses) include an amalgam of young professionals, old-timers, and first-time home owners who truly love the small-town feeling that they get from living in their 'hood. "We call ourselves, 'The Federal Hellions,'" jokes longtime resident Keith Losoya, past president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "We plant our feet down when it comes to development and change. We like to say, 'We hold the Hill.'"
The Lowdown Claim to Fame: Location, location, location—from Federal Hill, residents can walk to a Ravens or Orioles game, the Maryland Science Center, and The American Visionary Art Museum; Federal Hill has some of the best bars and nightlife in Baltimore City; the Heart Attack on a Plate Burger from Mothers Bar & Grille (1113. S. Charles St., 410-244-8686) was voted by the Food Network as Maryland's best burger. VIP Residents: Former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager and her husband, Henry; The Wire's David Simon and his wife Laura Lippman, the writer; Tom Clancy; WJZ-TV's Mark Viviano. Median Home Price (last 10 years): $234,000 Most Expensive Home: $1,823,000 for 2 bedroom 2.5 bath waterfront apartment in the Ritz Carlton Residences at 801 Key Highway (sold in 2009) Overheard: "I love you, man. Shots!"
While a ship sounds its horn from a distant dock and a winking Natty Boh peers out over the new townhomes and formstone row houses, Lisa Valle lets loose her canine charges at the corner of South Bouldin and Toone streets. As Harrison, Molly, and JB socialize and squat under the crab apple trees, Valle bends down to pet Jeb, a dachshund-beagle mix. "I would never forget to say, 'Hi' to you," says Valle, who works for the Canton-based Doghouse Girls. Canton Dog Park, started and solely supported by area residents, is a neighborhood hub, though people flock here from all over the city to enjoy the city's first off-leash dog park. "It's like a Cheers Bar for dogs," explains Valle. "We all know every dog by name even though we don't always know each other by name. It's a place where everyone comes together."
Long the domain of Polish, Welsh, and German immigrants, in recent decades Canton has attracted young people drawn to the nightlife, particularly around O'Donnell Square, and, now, many young families have put down roots and are committed to staying in the city. "If you don't have a dog, a kid, or a drinking problem," jokes longtime resident Nina McCarthy, "you don't belong in Canton." Adds Amy Jubb, a nine-year resident, "The second you pee on the pregnancy stick, and it turns positive, you don't have to call the Realtor and move. This is a great place to stay and raise a family."
The Lowdown Local Hangouts: Too many to list, including Patterson Park Community Pool ($25 for the season); Patterson Park Ice Rink (200 S. Linwood Ave., 410-396-9392); First Fridays at the Can Company (2400 Boston St., 443-573-4460); Jack's Bistro (3123 Elliott St., 410-878-6542) for chocolate macaroni and cheese; Firehouse Coffee Co. (1030 S. Linwood Ave., 410-522-2199) for free Wi-Fi; Looney's Pub (2900 O'Donnell St., 410-675-9235) for watching Ravens games; Yappy Hour at Dogma (3600 Boston St., 410-276-3410) on the first Friday of every month. VIP Residents: Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, 98 Rock's Josh Spiegel, WBAL-TV's Jayne Miller, and WBFF-TV's Megan Gilliland. Most Expensive House: Two bedroom, 2.5-bathroom Anchorage Tower penthouse at 2515 Boston St. for $645,000 in 2009.
Many folks who troll dreary North Avenue on a daily basis hear all this talk of a renaissance in the area just north of Penn Station and say, "Huh?" But they're coming at the wrong time. "If you really want to get a sense of Station North," says district association executive director David Bielenberg, "you need to be there between 8:30 and 9:30 on a Saturday night." That's when you'll see your old stereotypes about this stretch of North Avenue seriously debunked by the hordes of twentysomething art, music, and restaurant fans that are swarming over the reborn district.
In just a couple years, the old hipster destinations in the 'hood—The Charles Theatre, Club Charles, Everyman Theatre, and Tapas Teatro—have been joined by a slew of newer galleries, cafes, bookstores, and theaters that have popped up like dandelions through the sidewalk. "The successful model that's emerging is the combination business with the art gallery, performance venue, poetry readings, and cafe," says Bielenberg, citing The Windup Space (12 W. North Ave., 410-244-8855) and Joe Squared (133 W. North Ave., 410-545-0444).
Beyond the galleries—many of which cater to current MICA students—there's an older crowd including MICA alums with day jobs who are drawn to the theater offerings, including those at newer stages like the Single Carrot Theatre. And just down the street, there are architects, venture capitalists, medical researchers, and other mainstreamers who've moved into Railway Express, the historic-post-office-turned-upscale-apartments across St. Paul Street from Penn Station.
"Who would have thought that in our lifetime, North Avenue would have anything decent on it?" says Marty Azola, historic renovator and managing partner of Railway Express. "With so much being driven by the expansion of MICA on the north and the University of Baltimore to the south, I can't think of another neighborhood where there's so much going on."
The Lowdown VIP Residents: You haven't heard of them yet, but they're luminaries in their own 'hood, like owner Russell De Ocampo of Windup Space and Myrtis Bedola and Alex Hyman of the 5,000-square-foot Galerie Myrtis (2224 N. Charles St., 410-235-3711), who moved their fine art operation from Capitol Hill three years ago to get in on the ground floor of Station North. Local hangouts: During the day, the happening spots are the Station North Arts Café (1816 North Charles St., 410-625-6440), Sofi's Crepes, and the Cyclops bookstore, which, like so many of the enterprises here, also has poetry readings, peformances, and photo exhibits. Most Expensive Property: Five bedroom, two full, two half bathroom row house with five fireplaces on St. Paul Street sold for $490,000 in 2006.
With the wind whipping off the nearby Chesapeake Bay and church bells ringing in the distance, the usual crowd of state legislators, midshipmen—called "middies" here—and third-generation Annapolitans rub elbows at Chick and Ruth's Delly, huddling over heaps of gut-busting waffles and crab omelets. At precisely 8:30, owner Ted Levitt puts his right hand over his heart, faces the American flag hanging next to the sandwich specials, and leads the crowd through a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. "We've been saying the Pledge for 21 years," says Levitt. "There was a time when people were talking about flag burnings, and the Pledge was no longer being said in schools. We felt this was the right thing to do." Levitt's led the patriotic ritual every day since February 12, 1989.
It's an apt act for America's first capital and Maryland's state capital. But Annapolis's appeal doesn't end at this landmark restaurant in the shadow of State Circle. With stately Victorian and Georgian mansions on narrow, cobblestone streets, chichi boutiques, great food (French to Irish), and water, water everywhere, locals are learning to share with an influx of young singles and families drawn to the historic hub. Says Susan Steckman, vice president of communications for the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, "People come here to visit for a day and end up staying for a lifetime."
The Lowdown Local Hangouts: Rams Head Tavern, rated one of the top nightclubs in the country, hosts headliners from Lyle Lovett to Buckwheat Zydeco (33 West St., 410-268-4545); Pusser's Carribean Grille (80 Compromise St., 410-626-0004) is notable for dockside dining and crab quesadillas; locals love Quiet Waters Park (600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., 410-222-1777) for frolicking with Fido and the new, state-of-the-art, $16 million Truxtun Park Recreation Center (273 Hilltop Ln., 410-263-7958) for rock climbing. VIP Residents: Annapolis's native sons include Project Runway's Christian Siriano (who worked at The Westfield Mall prior to the competition) and Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin. Writers Tom Clancy and Barbara Kingsolver and Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd have also had Annapolis addresses. Most Expensive House (last 10 years): a five-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom 1910 Victorian, 1 Southgate Ave. on Spa Creek sold for $3.5 million in 2006. Hot Topic: Who has better crab cakes: Cantler's Riverside Inn (458 Forest Beach Rd., 410-757-1311) or Mike's Bar & Crab House (3030 Riva Rd., 410-956-2784)?
Perennially Hot 'Hoods
Seven that stand the test of time.
By Ken Iglehart
In every major city, there are premiere addresses, neighborhoods that are always in demand regardless of passing trends or real estate values, where homes often sell by word of mouth for the asking price—and Baltimore is no different.
It's not news that our seven such communities have remained prime real estate generation after generation—some would have been on the "hot/new" list in 1930. And while these staid enclaves may not be where you'd go for a rollicking good Saturday night, they're still hot from a real estate perspective.
This shady, upscale enclave on the City line with Baltimore County is on the Light Rail line to Hunt Valley, but forget about stopping here. Ruxtonites fought tooth and nail 20 years ago to make sure there was no easy mass-transit access to their neighborhood, with its Gilded-Age megahomes, large lots, and quaint village center. (It's also home to the exclusive L'Hirondelle country club.) The plaid people with Nantucket stickers on their Lexuses live here, and they want to be left alone.
In Charm City, where you're stereotyped by the name of your 'hood and where you "prepped," Roland Park—one of America's oldest planned neighborhoods—remains a 135-year-old synonym for wealth, power, and education. The houses along Roland Avenue and its hilly, forested sidestreets are often large and grand, the village center is polite and bourgeois, bustling with designer-outfitted denizens who all seem to know each other. So maybe it's no surprise that it's also home to some of the state's most prestigious private secondary schools, as well as one of the best public elementary schools in Baltimore. And unlike some other high-end areas, it's also completely surrounded by solid neighborhoods, serving as a buffer, of sorts, from crime, grime, or, God forbid, falling resale values.
In the late 1800s, Mt. Washington was a hilly, leafy, summer getaway for wealthy doctors, lawyers, and captains of industry, a respite from the tarmac-fueled heat, noise, crowds, and filth of downtown. Some things haven't changed: The imposing Victorian and Edwardian "grand cottages" may now mix with the occasional upscale contemporary home, giving the community an eclectic feel, but it still boasts the huge, mature trees, quiet streets, family-friendly parks, and residents who tend to be highly educated and generally well-heeled. The historic-riverside-mill-turned shopping area and the original village center of shops and restaurants gives the 'hood the feel of a small town. (And if you're a developer thinking of changing that, beware of a powerful community association.) It also boasts, arguably, the city's best public elementary school.
The Roland Park Homeland Company purchased the 391-acre parcel that would become Homeland in 1924 for $1 million and, to lay it out, hired the Boston firm of the Olmsted Brothers, which had also designed New York's Central Park. Its rolling terrain evoked the English flavor the company was looking for, and it continues to reflect that today with a mix of large stone cottages, faux Tudor architecture, and streets lined with massive 100-year-old trees. It's affluent and conservative, and it's in the city limits, but doesn't feel like it.
If there's one return address sure to impress your neighbors, it's this place, parts of which make Roland Park look like Guilford-lite. Also planned by the Olmsted firm and developed by the Roland Park Company in the early 1900s, it encompasses about 800 homes and has stunning examples of early-20th-century architecture, from über cottages to stately mansions reminiscent of the drippy estates in Newport, Rhode Island. It's also known for its community parks, shady streets, and the tulip fields at Sherwood Gardens.
The streets look the same, the housing looks the same, even the shopping destinations are designed to blend in with the original vision of developer James W. Rouse, who opened the town for business in 1967. Big, garish signage? Forget it. (And good luck finding the signs there are, because they're so darned understated.) But with a booming, upper-middle-class population of nearly 100,000, Columbia has acquired many of the characteristics of other contemporary U.S. suburbs, such as increasingly large homes and big-box retail stores. Howard County's top-rated public schools and its proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., keep this community in high demand for those who can afford it.
Located north of Liberty Heights Avenue near the Forest Park area of Northwestern Baltimore City, Ashburton is a well-kept secret. Dating to the roaring '20s, it offers large mature trees and gracious homes that for many years have attracted prominent African-Americans, including Baltimore's former mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, State Sen. Lisa Gladden, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Clerk of the Court Frank Conaway Sr., State Delegate Shawn Z. Tarrant (whose home was used as Lt. Daniels's in The Wire), attorney A. Dwight Pettit, and many others. It was also the childhood home of new mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, daughter of the late state legislator Howard "Pete" Rawlings.