Reconciling the Truth About Bolton Hill’s Monumental Past

From Just Us to JusticeOn May 2nd, 1903, more than 700 people gathered on a platform erected on Mt. Royal Avenue to celebrate the commemoration of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument—the first of four Confederate monuments erected in Baltimore. Hundreds more people gathered around the platform and on the parade route, which left from Mt Vernon Square and marched to Bolton Hill. The marchers, dressed in full Confederate military dress, made sure to stop at 814 Cathedral Street, the home of General Lawrason Riggs, where a member of his family waved a Confederate battle flag from one of the upper windows to rousing cheers from the procession. 

Among those celebrating this event were many Bolton Hill residents. One was the Rev. William Meade Dame, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church. Another was Mrs. D. Giraud Wright, the President of the Daughters of the Confederacy, who lived on Park Ave. Newspaper accounts of the event gave the impression that much of the city turned out for the celebration.

During the opening prayer, the Rev. Dame reminded the crowd of the righteousness of the cause of the Confederacy and how the men being honored today “shed such luster on their name and race.”

Those who witnessed the spectacle might be forgiven for thinking the South had won the war and that slavery was still the law of the land.

This typical celebration of the “Lost Cause” movement defined the Confederacy as a heroic struggle for states’ rights against an overbearing government. It also occurred during a time of increasing racial tensions in the city of Baltimore. In 1903, Democrats in Maryland began their campaign to disenfranchise black voters through a series of proposed constitutional amendments. These failed, but in 1910, Baltimore passed the most restrictive housing ordinance in the country. Many of the local activists supporting these efforts were Bolton Hill residents. We should not forget these facts.

General Howard, the keynote speaker at the commemoration of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument, said it was being erected “in the last days of the actors of the war”—that is, as the last of the Confederate soldiers were passing away—in the hopes that “in ages to come men and women who pass will say, ‘it is a worthy tribute from noble women to brave men.'” In all my research on this era of our city’s and our neighborhood’s history, I have been struck by the fact that there is almost no mention of slavery, the black residents of Baltimore, or the issue of race in general when it comes to the Civil War. It seems that in the interest of “reconciliation” between the North and South, reconciliation for slavery and the evils done to black bodies and minds was set aside and never taken up again.

Now that the city of Baltimore has taken down the all four monuments, the question that ought to be asked is: What next? Is the plinth left on Mt. Royal Ave. left empty? Does it become a platform for MICA students and other artists to express themselves? Should another statue be erected in its place? What conversations—if any—should be had with the Daughters of the Confederacy and the descendants of those who erected the statue in the first place? 

While many feel great relief that these statues have finally come down, many others, I suspect, may be surprised or even taken aback by the City’s actions. Very few, I suspect, are aware of the origins of these statues, their ties to the Lost Cause movement and the strong white supremacist overtones that surrounded their installations. I suspect many may still wonder why it was necessary to remove these statues at all.

Perhaps we, as a community, need to dedicate ourselves to our own neighborhood truth and reconciliation process. We need to tell—and hear—the truth about Bolton Hill’s own history of racism and support for segregation, and then have some honest conversation, not only about removing statues, but about the current realities of race and racism in our neighborhood, schools and universities here in Bolton Hill. How to people of color continue to be affected by these realities?

To this end, we’ll be hosting further discussion about Memorial Episcopal Church and the role it has played in Bolton Hill’s racial history on Wednesday, September 27, at 7 pm. We hope you’ll attend and help continue our neighborhood’s truth and reconciliation process.

Bolton Square Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Bolton Square-interior
Green space and fountain inside the Bolton Square development, built in 1967. Photo by Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritage.

by William Hamilton

The 50th anniversary celebration of Bolton Square will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 1–6 p.m. Come celebrate our neighborhood and this great example of our neighborhood’s resilience.

Bolton Square’s mid-century modern townhouses and gardens will be open for tours from 1–4 p.m., followed by a ceremony and cocktail party on the common green area that faces West Lafayette Ave. between Eutaw and Bolton streets. Enter at 300 West Lafayette Ave.

Admission is $10; company and organizational sponsorships are available. The nationally recognized architect who designed Bolton Square, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, and the widow of Baltimore developer Stanley Panitz, who constructed the 35 units, will attend. Sponsors include Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Bolton Square-ext
Mid-century modern in Bolton Hill. Bolton Square condo fronting Lafayette Ave.

Bolton Square is not just architecturally distinctive. It also plays an important part in our neighborhood’s history. 

In the aftermath of World War II, Bolton Hill was on the skids. Wealthy families who built the 19th-century mansions had given way to absentee landlords who cut them into rooming houses for workers in town to grab jobs in the war economy. Many houses were rundown, and others were abandoned.

The city assumed control of land between West Lafayette Avenue and McMechen Streets, just east of Eutaw Place, and considered knocking down decaying buildings and constructing large-scale public housing. The city hired consultants, including Connie Lieder, an urban economist who still lives in the neighborhood, to do an economic assessment. Her study concluded that there were promising signs of new life as people had begun buying and restoring the old houses. Based in part on that study, the city decided to hold an architectural competition and award a contract for the best design for new housing.

In 1964, Panitz and Jacobsen were awarded a contract to begin construction on the cleared city land, which included closing Linden Avenue to create a common, enclosed green space. The first segment was finished in 1967, and the developer moved his own large family into an end unit. Then came the assassination of Martin Luther King, rioting and white flight. Several Bolton Square units had to be rented because no buyers were interested. The builder persevered, however, and the units all eventually become owner occupied. A year or so later the Linden Green apartments, facing Bolton Square, were constructed, along with what is now the newly renovated Linden Park apartment tower on McMechen and the Sutton Place apartments on Park Ave. Urban renewal funds made it all possible.

Since that time, the neighborhood has regained much of its historic appeal and value. Bolton Square today, like Bolton Hill around it, is home to an intergenerational and interracial mix of professionals, business people and academics. Celebrate it! For further information, contact Monty Howard, Bolton Square Homeowners Association president, at 410-243-2902 or montyhoward@earthlink.net.

Bulletin Seeks New Team Members

Front Page Jan-Feb 2015 Bulletin
Front page of the Jan-Feb 2015 Bulletin–printed on paper.

The Bolton Hill Bulletin is seeking new volunteers to be part of its production team, including a new production team leader to take over for Peter Van Buren. After three years leading the Bulletin, Peter will step down in January of 2018. Both Peter and current co-editor Jean Lee Cole intend to stay on as members of the new production team, but the work has grown substantially and additional hands are needed.

In addition to a team leader, other roles include an advertising manager to coordinate the sponsors, a calendar editor to manage event postings, and assistant editors/beat reporters to produce articles for the newsletter’s sections, which include MRIA Matters, Neighborhood News, Social Justice, and Health & Safety.

Volunteers can expect about 2-5 hours work per month. People with experience or interest in writing, WordPress, photography, sales, and neighborhood journalism, are all needed; a commitment to adhere to deadlines is essential. Peter and Jean will provide training and support for the specifics of each role.

Please email your interest to bhbeditormail@gmail.com, and join the MRIA’s Communication team.

Changes in Production

Producing MRIA’s monthly newsletter has always been a group effort. Over the years, team members have changed and the roles have evolved, particularly as the Bulletin moved online in January of 2016.

In January 2015 when Judith McFadden retired as editor and Peter assumed the role, the Bulletin was printed double-sided on a single sheet of legal paper. This format allowed for copy totaling around 1,500 words per issue.

When the Bulletin moved online, tasks changed, as the WordPress platform handled the layout, while the need to print and mail disappeared. This greatly reduced both production expenses and the time between finish and delivery, while dramatically increasing the amount of information that could be covered. Issues now arrive about a day after the issue is finished, and include 11 to 15 articles with a total word count of 6000–7000, a fourfold increase.

The online formal also accommodates color graphics, photos and videos, as well as an interactive calendar with details on local events and links to much more information around the web. None of these were possible with the print Bulletin.

Margaret DeArcangelis of MRIA’s Membership Committee still makes sure each issue goes out to the most current list of members, while Jean Lee Cole stepped up as co-editor in the summer of 2015. Jean shared Peter’s vision of moving the Bulletin online; together they made the new website a reality in just 4 months.

Jean and Peter now share the responsibility for producing the Bulletin throughout the year, handling all the roles from advertising to copywriting, and from calendar management to website maintenance. They could use some help. Come join the team!

Sign on to Bring a Grocery Store to Madison Park North

Could we see a grocery store on North Avenue?

The Neighborhood Coalition for Madison Park North Redevelopment reports that Berg Demo is close to completing the demolition of the Madison Park North site. The school records building was the last piece to come down.

The developers are preparing initial plans for the east side of the development (totaling 50,000 square feet and approximately 200 housing units), which will be presented at their next meeting on September 25 at 7 pm. Meeting location TBA.

However, a grocery store has yet to give a firm commitment to the project. The developers have asked the community to send letters to grocery stores encouraging them to sign onto the property. Stores to contact include Whole Cities Foundation (part of Whole Foods), Trader Joe’s/Aldi, Fresh Grocer, and Lidl, a German company that has committed to building in Baltimore City. The grocery stores need to fit within a 25,000-30,000 square foot space (approximately the size of Eddie’s in Mt. Vernon).

The Coalition is going to write up a letter template for the community to send to grocery stores of interest. A petition is circulating in the area, which people can sign at the next Coalition meeting. They are also looking for community members to identify what they want to see in a grocery store. Contact the Coalition at ncmpnr@gmail.com with ideas or if you are interested in volunteering in this effort.

Explosive Oil Trains Endanger Our Community

by Andrew Hinz

Bolton Hill is one of several Baltimore neighborhoods at risk from highly explosive crude oil trains. Bakken oil transported from North Dakota contains fracking chemicals and elevated levels of methane, making it more flammable than conventional oil.

Oil train derailment, Lynchburg, VA
A train carrying crude oil derailed while traveling at low speeds in Lynchburg, VA in April 2014, bursting into flames and dumping oil into the James River. Photo courtesy riverwatch.org.

Since the fracking boom began in 2008, the transport of crude oil by rail across North America has dramatically increased. A string of derailments has followed, including a July 6, 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings. Rail infrastructure across the U.S., including in Baltimore, is under stress, increasing risk to those of us in the blast zone within a mile of the tracks.

In 2013 and 2014, more than 100 million gallons of crude oil were shipped by rail through Baltimore. Shipments of “unit trains” carrying 35 cars of crude oil have slowed since the price of oil dropped, but they could increase substantially if oil prices rebound. And it only takes one derailed tank car of Bakken crude oil to cause a fire and explosion. This volatile cargo also endangers infrastructure for general cargo and intermodal traffic, which bring more revenue and jobs to Baltimore and Maryland than bulk commodity shipments like crude oil.

Concerned officials at all levels of government are addressing this public health and safety issue. Maryland’s Attorney General has joined five other states in asking the federal government to limit the volatility of oil transported by rail. But it is uncertain whether federal authorities will act, making local action even more important. 

Thankfully, City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Edward Reisinger are co-sponsoring a zoning amendment to prohibit new or expanded crude oil shipping infrastructure in Baltimore City. The amendment will grandfather the two terminals currently operating, one in Canton and the other in Fairfield. Maryland’s General Assembly will consider legislation in the 2018 legislative session requiring more transparency in reporting of crude-by-rail shipments, increased emergency preparedness, and proof of insurance from rail companies, similar to a bill just passed by the New Jersey legislature.

Councilman Eric Costello, who represents our neighborhood, is currently undecided on the bill. You can write him at eric.costello@baltimorecity.gov to encourage him to support this important legislation.

The faster we move away from dangerous and polluting fossil fuel infrastructure like crude oil trains, the faster we can transition to job-creating clean energy projects like offshore wind and community solar.

If you’d like to find out more about the oil train issue, you can attend a screening and discussion of Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail on Thursday, September 21, 6–8 pm at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore at 12 West Franklin Street (use their Charles Street entrance to Parish Hall for the screening). This 23-minute film by Vice News outlines the use of defective DOT-111 oil tankers and the secrecy around rail oil shipments.

Park Café Is Back–Is Dooby’s On the Way?

by William Hamilton

The Park Café, which closed abruptly in July, is back in business with new owners. Meanwhile, Dooby’s Café—or something similar—may be coming to Bolton Hill soon. 

“We’re not quite ready to announce anything,” said Phil Han, who owns Dooby’s, a restaurant that serves Korean-tilted food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as Sugarvale, a small bar, both located in Mt. Vernon.

Discussions are underway for Han’s organization to take over the vacant Two Boots Pizza location on Mt. Royal Avenue adjacent to the Brass Tap pub and the Barnes & Noble bookstore. But neither Han nor Bolton Hill resident Monica Lavorgna, who manages retail space rentals for the Fitzgerald apartment building, would say when an announcement might be forthcoming.

Elsa Valdez and her brother Jorge Gonzalez are now at the helm of Park Café, which reopened on Aug. 9. Valdez was the chef when the café operated under other owners. The coffee, soup and sandwich venue keeps the same menu and community spirit that has made the place successful in the past. 

“We will operate the cafe as a family business, providing customers with the same great service and quality of food as always,” the new owners said. “Moving forward we will focus on the introduction of new menu items, including more house-made pastries, ethnically inspired dishes, and expanded catering.”

MICA and ACLU Host Symposium on Democracy in Trump’s America

The Maryland Institute College of Art and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland commemorate Constitution Day, September 17, with a 2-day symposium exploring the emerging crisis in democratic institutions and government brought upon by the Trump administration.

“We are living in exceptional political times, where, many argue, the basic and central institutions of our democracy are threatened–by the president himself,” said Constitution Day organizer and MICA Humanistic Studies faculty member Firmin DeBrabander.

“How worrisome are Trump’s perceived attacks? What shall we make of them, and how shall we respond?” he continued. “Is this tyranny, and if so, how will democracy survive?”

Events take place on Tuesday, Sept. 19, and Friday, Sept. 22. All events are free and open to the public, and will take place in MICA’s Falvey Hall, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Schedule of events

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 7–9 p.m. “Is This What Democracy Looks Like?” Panel discussion with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, “revolutionary” artist Dread Scott and history professor Kenneth Ledford, Case Western University, moderated by WYPR Maryland Midday host Tom Hall.

Friday, Sept. 22:

  • 12:30 p.m. “Restoring Civic Culture” with Baltimore Youth Arts Founder Gianna Rodriguez and community arts activist and organizer Graham Coreil-Allen, moderated by Kalima Young.
  • 2:30 p.m. “Educating for a Democratic Society” with Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, Liberty Elementary Principal Joseph Manko, M.A. in Teaching Director Adriane Pereira, and North Avenue Knowledge Exchange Program Coordinator Khadiha Adell, moderated by Marketplace Education Editor Amy Scott.
  • 5:00 p.m. Artist Mel Chin and Lester K. Spence, associate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University, discuss the role of art in a democratic society and the role citizens play in defining democracy.

Established in 2005, Constitution Day continues the College’s tradition of leadership in raising and exploring important political issues. This year’s Constitution Day officially launches a new College-wide initiative MICA Making Democracy, which advances MICA’s core values in response to changes in the cultural and political landscape.

Meet Our Sponsor: Corpus Christi Catholic Church

The forbidding gray façade of Corpus Christi Catholic Church belies rich beauty within.

Home to some of the nation’s finest examples of Florentine glass mosaic, Corpus Christi is also home base for a close-knit, welcoming congregation.

Consecrated in 1891, the church was built by the five children of Thomas Courtney Jenkins and Louisa Carrell Jenkins in honor of their parents. It was designed by the Brooklyn architect Patrick Charles Keeley, designer of over 600 churches, with decorations made by an English company that participated in the design of the Houses of Parliament.

The church’s Florentine mosaics exemplify the lush coloring and imagery of the Pre-Raphaelites, contrasting with the church’s Gothic Revival exterior. Mosaics over the altar and throughout the church depict Biblical themes, the history of Catholicism in Maryland, and the history of the Jenkins family, which has roots in Maryland dating to the 1600s.

Fr. Marty
Father Martin Demek, pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church.

Father Marty Demek presides over the congregation. A native Baltimorean, Fr. Marty was educated at St. Paul Latin School, St. Charles College in Catonsville, and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He came to Corpus Christi in 2010 after serving at various parishes in the Baltimore area and in Manchester, MD.

Parishioners note the church’s warm, welcoming atmosphere. “You have basilica-level beauty in a small parish with a tight-knit yet welcoming, vibrant community,” says Sarah Bujno. “It’s a different experience than I’ve had with other churches.”

During the service, this spirit of welcome is evident during the passing of the peace. Rather than just greet their immediate neighbors with a simple handshake and a “peace be with you,” parishioners leave their pews and move throughout the nave, greeting old friends and new ones alike with kiss on the cheek or an embrace. “It’s an active community event,” said Bujno.

Corpus Christi also ensures equal representation of men and women at the altar during service, scheduling three female Eucharistic Ministers for each Sunday Mass to balance a male Eucharistic Minister, Fr. Marty, and his attending Deacon.

The church organizes a variety of opportunities for spiritual growth for children, teens, and adults. Children under five get their own “Liturgy of the Word,” which takes place during the 10:30 am Sunday mass, while kids between kindergarten through tenth grade receive Faith Formation on Sunday mornings before Mass and in preparation for sacramental rites of passage such as first communion and confirmation.

Adult parishioners may join a variety of committees that support the activities of the Church. Corpus Christi also sponsors marriage preparation classes (open to anyone planning to wed in a Catholic church), Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for those interested in learning more about the Catholic faith, and Gays and Lesbians at Corpus Christi (GALA). The Social Justice and Community Service Committee also organizes social justice coffee houses with speakers on current issues and the church’s annual day of service.

The church’s spirit of community reaches well beyond church walls. With financial support from Ellicott City’s Church of the Resurrection, Corpus Christi’s long-running food program, directed by Beth Steinrock, served over 2,000 lunches last year from the rectory door. They also collect food donations from area schools, Whole Foods, parishioners, and neighbors, and partners with St. Francis Neighborhood Center in Reservoir Hill to distribute bags of groceries to those in need. Last year they distributed over 1,000 bags. They also participate in Tri-Church events such as the Lenten Education Series and Palm Sunday procession, and support MICA and UB’s Catholic student population.

Parishioner Denise Duval, who serves with the grocery bag program and also co-chairs the Social Justice and Community Service Committee, said she is “constantly amazed by the deep generosity and love of the Corpus Christi community.”

Mass is held on Saturdays at 4 pm and Sundays at 10:30 am; reconciliation on Saturdays at 3:30 pm or by appointment. To contact the church, call (410) 523-4161 or email mdemek@archbalt.org. If interested in volunteering, contact beth.steinrock@archbalt.org.

Crape Myrtle, Lagerstroemia

crape myrtle
Crape myrtle in bloom.

Since July Lagerstroemia’s long-lasting, clustered blossoms have made summer gardens of our streets. White, mauve, raspberry, plum—the Victorian shades of these small trees’ flowers suit Bolton Hill. 

But all good things come to an end: in September their colors fast fade away.

The flowers are “perfect,” meaning they contain both female and male parts. Native to Asia, Lagerstroemia have decorated our southern landscapes since 1790, when French botanist Andre Michaux brought them to Charleston, SC.

The leaves are opposite each other on the twig, and “simple” with “entire” margins: meaning the leaf is not lobed and its edges are smooth rather than serrated. Honeybees and pollinating wasps are attracted to the bright generous flowers and to the residue left from crape myrtle aphid activity. Ladybugs keep the aphids in check.

Next, the leaves will give us nice fall color—but nothing so splendid as the sherbets shades of summer. And finally, all that will be left will be the mottled, smooth bark, which provides interest throughout the winter.