STORIES OF WEST BALTIMORE
We all have stories – stories of our own experiences, stories of our families, stories our community. Our stories pass on our individual and collective experience of a place, of a time, and of history, and bring to life the times in which we live and the forces that have shaped where we are.
Our place is Reservoir Hill, and Reservoir Hill is an integral part of west Baltimore.
RHIC would like to share the stories of the people of west Baltimore and allow this deeply personal history to tell the story of our communities.
If you would like to share a story, please write to Richard Gwynallen at email@example.com, or by mail to 2001 Park Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21217.
Tell your story the way you want it told. Do not worry about length or style. Just say it the way is or was.
If you have a picture or two to highlight your story, or a picture of yourself as the storyteller, please send it.
Old Whitelock Street by Virginia Bost: The 900 block of Whitelock Street, between Brookfield and Linden Avenue, was Reservoir Hill. With the cluster of stores, we had our own mall. It was a strip mall, an all-purpose mall that fit your everyday needs.
Some Reflections on the 900 Block Brooks Lane by Harry Peaker; In the spring of 1958, I saw an advertisement in the local paper regarding a house for sale in the nine hundred block of Brooks Lane. I was somewhat familiar with Brooks Lane because I had spent my early childhood in the 1930’s and 40’s in the twenty hundred block of Madison Avenue.. . Madison Avenue was black and the next street, Eutaw Place, was white and predominantly Jewish.
From My Steps on Whitelock Street by Father Tom Composto; In the seventies and eighties, the 900 block of Whitelock Street was always alive: deliveries in the mornings, customers for Herling’s Food Market, lines for Herling’s Liquors, shopping carts with piles of laundry for the Laundromat . . .Sometimes the street was so alive, you had to duck.
Reflections on Druid Hill Park by La Claire Bunke
Leafing through a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room, I came across an article on city parks nationwide. On skimming the write-up, the name of Druid Hill Park seemed to leap from the page, releasing a torrent of memories. . . . My very first introduction to Druid Hill Park was at toddler age, when a seemingly endless streetcar ride brought our family to the entrance.
Old Whitelock Street By Virginia Bost
The 900 block of Whitelock Street, between Brookfield and Linden Avenue, was Reservoir Hill. With the cluster of stores, we had our own mall. It was a strip mall, an all-purpose mall that fit your everyday needs. To name a few, they were: Potts and Montgomery brothers Barber Shop, Paul’s Record Shop, Smoote’s Carry-Out, and a pharmacy that delivered to your door. There was a laundromat, beauty salon, hardware store, Clove’s Dry Cleaners, Jimmy’s Shoe Repair, fish market, Chinese carry-out, and Father Tom’s outreach center.
We had our first Reservoir Hill community center which was directed by the late Tony Fulton and his many assistants, like Ms. Davis, and other late soldiers that worked hard and for many years to make this community better.
When you name these stores on this street, it brings back memories. I was told I missed a few stores, but that’s all right, this is a clear view of what this street was like. Very busy. Very convenient for seniors. No need to go out of the neighborhood – we had it all on Whitelock Street. It was a one-stop shop. Maybe someday this street will flourish again, with trees, banners about Whitelock Street, canopies, and maybe a bakery shop.
Some Reflections on the 900 Block Brooks Lane by Harry Peaker
In the spring of 1958, I saw an advertisement in the local paper regarding a house for sale in the nine hundred block of Brooks Lane.
I was somewhat familiar with Brooks Lane because I had spent my early childhood in the 1930’s and 40’s in the twenty hundred block of Madison Avenue. In those days, Madison Avenue was the north-south border street between the black and white neighborhoods. Madison Avenue was black and the next street, Eutaw Place, was white and predominantly Jewish. I often used Eutaw Place to travel to Druid Hill Park and would pass Brooks Lane along the way. This route allowed me to stop at at Manheimer’s Drug Store located in the 2600 block of Eutaw Place. Manheimer’s was a very unique, up-scale pharmacy with a long soda fountain, dispensing ice cream sodas and sundaes, lemon and cherry cokes, and custom prepared sandwiches. I could not sit nor eat at the soda fountain, but I could order my ice cream soda and take it out.
Thus, when I approached Brooks Lane in 1958, thoughts of my earlier experiences again surfaced. Manheimer’s was still there. I could now sit at the soda fountain, but somehow I no longer wanted to. Very little had changed along the 900 block, still a densely tree lined street of porch-front residences. Some had upper porches, also. The one in the ad had the two porches with canvas awnings top and bottom. The adjacent houses had awnings, too. The house was very spacious, well appointed, with high ceilings. I fell in love with it immediately. I reconnoitered Whitelock Street with its shopping enclave – a kosher butcher, a tailor who could expertly alter, a well-stocked grocery store, a confectionary/hardware store, a barbershop, a liquor store and a pharmacy.
I purchased that house in the Fall of 1958. Over the ensuing years, Manheimer’s is no more and I witnessed the demise of Whitelock convenience strip and the depression of property values. I am the only original black resident remaining. However, in the last two years things have begun to turn around: several new developments and new residents. Perhaps, there will be “a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.”
From My Steps on Whitelock Street by Father Tom Composto;
In the seventies and eighties, the 900 block of Whitelock Street was always alive: deliveries in the mornings, customers for Herling’s Food Market, lines for Herling’s Liquors, shopping carts with piles of laundry for the Laundromat and various entrepreneurs of whoopee in little bags. Some dealer was always on the pay phone on the side of Herling’s until the wire got snipped, (accidentally, of course). Sometimes the street was so alive, you had to duck.
I would sit on the steps of the old St. Francis Neighborhood Center at 936 Whitelock, just to look, check out the scene, “signify.” There was always something going down. . . or about to.
We had a cleaners across the street, and Paul’s record shop. . .really a pool-hall where some of the younger guys hung out. When Paul went home at night, he always set his alarm. Invariably, some neighborly gent who thought Paul should share his goods, would attempt to relieve Paul of them through the back door. That alarm was aimed directly at my bedroom window, loud enough to wake the gorilla in the zoo, and wouldn’t stop. So I’d call Paul, and he’d come up.
The Laundromat also had an alarm. The share and share alike folks would also try to relieve Mr. Byun of his change, so I’d have to call him, too: a neighborly service.
Charlie Chew, Jimmy the shoemaker, and the guys who used to hang out in Jimmy’s store were part of the Whitelock scene, too.
Jimmy had a shoe repair shop where he really did fix shoes. Actually, he was of the old school and did a pretty good job on the shoes. He had other predilections, too. Jimmy was old, sixty or so, and he had a young lady working for him at the store.
One day, a young dude, in a rage, threw a garbage can through Jimmy’s plate glass window. Apparently, he and the girl had a difference of opinion . . . like whether Jimmy had better attributes, a debate, cheered on by his friends, which didn’t sit well at all. Things died down, and the young lady continued contentedly in Jimmy’s employ.
Jimmy’s store was a locale where the old guys could hang out, tell the stories, and watch out for each other. Charlie was older than dirt, had no teeth, moved slo-o-o-w and lived in an apartment around the corner on Linden Avenue. Charlie also had this gold-digger girl friend who always “took care” of his check. You know where that went.
So, early one morning, we got a truck and volunteers and swooshed Charlie and all his stuff to St. Francis before she got home. When she found out, she came storming down the street, got to the Center, and demanded to get into the apartment. When she couldn’t , we had a preview of Mt. St. Helen’s, right there on beautiful, serene, downtown Whitelock Street. She screamed out various imprecations about my ancestry, my fitness for the priesthood, various bodily descriptions, and biblical threats from which the prophets could have learned. She got applause from the guys across the street at Jimmy’s.
That’s how we took care of Charlie in his later years. He was peaceful and could visit with friends in his own place. He had an emergency buzzer so I could come help him if he needed it. We opened a bank account, so that there would be money for his current needs, and, eventually, his final needs. Caring for people like Charlie fulfilled the Center’s mission in Reservoir Hill.
Reflections on Druid Hill Park by La Claire Bunke.
Leafing through a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room, I came across an article on city parks nationwide. On skimming the write-up, the name of Druid Hill Park seemed to leap from the page, releasing a torrent of memories. However, I will only try to summarize the three, which are still vivid in my memory bank.
My very first introduction to Druid Hill Park was at toddler age, when a seemingly endless streetcar ride brought our family to the entrance. There an organ grinder with his live monkey selling peanuts greeted us. Trudging along the green bench lined roadway into the park, where numerous tame squirrels scampered for the peanuts from visitors, was a happy and exciting event.
Next, during grammar school days, there was a citywide campaign to collect pennies from pupils in order to purchase an elephant for the zoo. When sufficient coins had been amassed, there was a contest to name the new elephant. “Mary Ann” was chosen.
Third, in 1947 there was a tremendous outcry from citizens when the political city fathers proposed making a road along one border of the reservoir, thus separating the majestic entrance arch from the park grounds. Despite considerable objection, the Druid Lake Drive was installed, isolating the inscribed archway (with plaques attached) from its original function as the park entrance on Madison Avenue.
How many Baltimoreans know that Druid Hill Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Research reveals that there was a nationwide movement to provide urban dwellers with large parks. The property was purchased in 1860 and dedicated as Druid Hill Park by Mayor Thomas Sann in October of that year (two years after the Central Park began in 1858). Construction began in 1863 and the earthen dammed reservoir there remains the largest one in the nation. Originally the park was used for strolling, driving, riding, skating pond, ball games and picnics. The water features included natural springs, streams and lakes that also functioned as a reservoir of drinking water.
The Zoo was established in 1876, as a result of people donating various animals to the park. Of course, over the years since that beginning, the Zoo has been expanded to updated in many ways. Twentieth century additions to the park include picnic groves and shelters, facilities for tennis, lacrosse, archery and swimming. In addition, there is now an excellent zoological exhibit as well as children’s Zoo.
The Park has hosted many community activities such as Sunday band concerts in the summer, a program which continues for a number of years. More recent events include a 2002 memorial dedicated to Eli Siegel, American philosopher and poet, who loved Baltimore and wrote poetry inspired by it. Probably the most recent developments have been the disc golf course and jogging path around the lake.
In 1652, the Susquehanna Indians ceded the land, which included the park area in its holdings, to Lord Baltimore. It was formerly the estate of George Buchanan, one of seven Commissioners known as Auchentorolie, and constituted 579 acres, which is part of the 745 acres comprising the park today. Its development followed European parks tradition in the picture garden style.
Well known structures in the park that have been designated as Baltimore City landmarks include the Madison Avenue arched gateway, the boat house, part of the Chinese station, the conservatory and palm house, an octagonal shelter, the chess and checkers pavilion and the 19th century early federal style mason with a Rogers family cemetery behind it. Other notable features in clued statuary dating from the late 19th century, a “Turkish” or “Moorish” tower, the Druid Lake Gate inscribed in 1871, an Osage tree estimated to be 350 years old.
Currently, my personal favorite feature is the fountain in the lake. When it is activated and the multi-colored lights in the base are operating, it is a pleasing sight. As the steady stream of traffic rushes along Druid Lake Drive daily, one wonders if the car occupants are aware of the extensive natural wooded beauty of Druid Hill, as well as the many constructed facilities that lie within.