Learn about Baltimore's long history with vacant houses (both tearing them down and fixing them up), the famed Dollar House program, and more on this ride and tour with Baltimore Heritage's Eli Pousson.
Vacant rowhouses are a significant challenge for many of Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods. After decades of abandonment and neglect, demolition at some point looks like the only option. However, demolition doesn’t have to mean a bulldozer. Deconstruction can take a house apart, floorboard by floorboard, joist by joist, and brick by brick. Instead of sending tons of debris to a landfill, deconstruction recycles these materials by providing them brick and lumber to contractors, building supply firms and even homeowners. With hundreds of distressed rowhouses demolished each year in Baltimore, deconstruction offers the opportunity to reclaim historic materials that are all too often wasted and forgotten.
On December 13, Baltimore Heritage is offering an unusual behind the scenes look at deconstruction in process thanks to Details Deconstruction – a new social enterprise business started by Humanim to promote workforce development. On a block of East Eager Street, a team of deconstruction professionals and trainees (almost all East Baltimore residents) are undertaking a pilot project to show how a block of vacant rowhouse can still:
- provide recycled bricks and lumber for new construction or restoration projects,
- offer education and training opportunities for Baltimore residents, and
- help to tell the stories behind vacant houses in the Milton-Montford neighborhood.
Over the past several months, Mr. Max Pollock from Details Deconstruction has been capturing the process of deconstruction on the Baltimore Brick by Brick blog. In compelling photos and writing, Max has profiled crew members and documented items left behind by former residents in his “Friday Finds” series. In his own time, Max collects historic bricks – making him the perfect tour guide for telling the story of how even Baltimore’s most distressed brick rowhouses can still help the city build a stronger future.
If you’ve been to Pittsburgh, you know it has a fantastic downtown peninsula packed with sky-scrapers built by Alcoa, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, U.S. Steel, and more. Charlie Duff and I avoided this alluring urban hub to explore the city’s rowhouse neighborhoods on a tour led by Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. And there are more than a few rowhouse neighborhoods in Pittsburgh!
Just over the bridge from downtown lies Pittsburgh’s North Shore (where, incidentally the still mostly-new baseball stadium clearly borrows its design from Camden Yards). Deutchtown, a once German neighborhood, has wonderful brick rows, sans the white marble steps found in East Baltimore. The nearby Mexican War Streets neighborhood also contains wonderful rows that resemble Philadelphia’s Society Hill or Boston’s Beacon Hill as much as they do anything in Baltimore. And just one neighborhood over, West Allegheny has the remnants of a rowhouse neighborhood as grand as Eutaw Place but mixed with some whopper free-standing urban mansions the likes of which Baltimore never really saw.
Unlike Baltimore, however, the rowhouses in these neighborhoods had much more variability. Houses with different brick colors, rooflines, windows, and even front steps joined together to make almost all of the rows we saw. No red-brick and white marble steps as far as the eye can see here in Pittsburgh. Also unlike Baltimore, the close-in rowhouse neighborhoods quickly give way to communities of bungalows and and four squares.
In Baltimore, you can travel out of downtown east, west, north or south for a couple of miles before the rowhouses give way to detached homes. In Pittsburgh, the development pattern changes much more quickly, perhaps due to the hilly terrain. By the early 1900s, it seems that much of the rowhouse development stopped in favor of a mix of bungalows, duplexes, small apartment buildings, and a host of other building types.
There is much to like about Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Victorian rowhouses and the apparent energy that is going into rehabbing many of them. Rowhouses are not the dominant housing type by any means, but there are enough of them to make Pittsburgh familiar to any of us with a Baltimore rowhouse perspective.
Don’t miss the previous post in our series from the Great Western Rowhouse Roadtrip! More photographs of Pittsburgh’s North Side by photographer Joseph A. can be found in this North Side/Allegheny City Flickr Set.
Do you know one of the wonderful things about Baltimore rowhouses? Even when they look nearly the same on the outside, there are countless different ways they can be rehabbed and restored on the inside. Please join us next week on a tour of two neighboring rowhouses in Mount Vernon. Each is grand in its own way: one restored to its original glory and the other rehabbed by mixing stunning modern elements with the historic fabric.
We’re also pleased to be working with a new partner—the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance—to develop a new Explore Baltimore Heritage tour of Hampden and promote an evening open house this Friday. Come out to enjoy the historic Church & Co. venue (a former church, of course!), hear performances by local musicians, donated refreshments, and bid on their fun silent auction to raise money for a new history walking tour brochure of Hampden landmarks!
Featured image: Photograph of 823-831 Park Avenue Baltimore, MD. Courtesy Library of Congress, Historic American Building Survey, HABS MD-1135-1.
This week’s edition of the Baltimore Building of the Week series from Dr. John Breihan comes a few days late as we finalize preparations for our 50th Anniversary Celebration this Friday. Please join us for the open house tours on Mount Vernon Place at 4:30 PM or for an evening of Preservation Awards, dinner, and dancing starting at 6:30 PM. This single Italianate rowhouse is the first in a three week long focus on Italianate rowhouses in Baltimore,
The heavy carved wooden cornice of this rowhouse was based on the palaces of the great trading families of the Italian Renaissance – the Medici, for example. Perhaps the adoption of this “Italianate” style reflected the booming commerce of a growing Baltimore. At any rate, from the 1850s on, Italianate became the most popular architectural style in Baltimore for the next four decades. Unlike the semi-fortified houses of the Renaissance elites, Italianate rowhouses featured huge windows, increasingly taking advantage of advances in glassmaking that replaced multi-paned windows with window frames incorporating extensive sheets of glass, sometimes triple hung for extra height. Arched doorways were approached by white marble steps. Italianate houses could be either brick or stone. But carved wood cornices crowning flat or shed roofs always remained the hallmarks of this style.