Libraries Society of North America 31st Annual Conference
Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland - March 20-26, 2003
March 23, 2003, 2-3:30 p.m.
Associate Professor & Program Coordinator, City & Regional Planning, Morgan State University, Baltimore
Architect, historical consultant, and co-author of The Baltimore Rowhouse (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999)
Director, Baltimore City Heritage Area and Former Deputy Director, Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville
Glassman, New York School of Interior Design
Price, Media Union Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Glassman introduced the session and our speakers with a brief overview of the
row house as an architectural type. Historical
examples range from 14th-century Rouen, 17th-century
Amsterdam, and 18th-century Bath to 19th-century
Philadelphia (Society Hill), Boston (Beacon Hill), and New York City (Upper
Westside brownstones and Harlem). Contemporary
examples include housing in New York, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Los
Angeles. Mr. Glassman noted that the architectural qualities exhibited
by the row house--rhythm, proportion, human-scale, economy--reach back to
to all of the remarks presented was that housing is not just the buildings, but
also the community around them and formed by them.
The issue of renovation and rehabilitation is complex.
While many of the vacant row houses in Baltimore could house all of the
city’s homeless and low-income residents, they do not, because the
infrastructure supporting the community is so weak. Rehabilitating the housing stock and the infrastructure are
interdependent-–one cannot precede the other, and one cannot exist without the
Sen's remarks focused on the need for a strong infrastructure to provide the
skeleton for housing and the support for communities.
Messrs. Belfoure and Pencek both remarked on the row houses themselves,
on their potential for rehabilitation, and on their key role in the
revitalization of the city. Speaking
from the perspective of an architect, Mr. Belfoure was pragmatic and argued for
realistic approaches and expectations. Speaking
from the perspective of a preservationist and city employee, Mr. Pencek
concentrated on the tools of federal and state incentives and argued for their
use in both the rehabilitation and preservation of Baltimore's uniquely row
house-dense urban fabric.
Sen used the row house as a means to turn our attention to the issue of urban
housing, particularly to issues of social equity in housing.
Like many post-industrial cities, Baltimore has suffered the loss of
industry and the subsequent deterioration of infrastructure and loss of
population. The current migration
rate of the city is –11.5%, resulting in large areas of abandonment. Like many of our nation’s cities, the population of the
city is segregated and primarily African American (64%), with almost 23% of the
population living below the poverty line.
Sen noted that there is a 50% ownership rate for houses and that 14% of the
city's housing stock lies vacant. Among rental properties, there is a 7.6%
vacancy rate. He noted that there has been a fundamental shift in the
housing of the urban poor in the past few decades.
While such housing has been located at the edge of the city, there is a
greater emphasis now on maintaining communities with a more human scale, spaced
throughout the city and nearer to employment opportunities.
A federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program called Hope VI is
leading much of the current low-income housing initiative.
The intent of Hope VI is to rehabilitate depressed neighborhoods and to
allow more people to own their own homes. Grants
are offered (by 2001 over 375 grants had been given) and public-private
partnerships are encouraged.
Sen referred to several examples of Hope VI funded housing in Baltimore to
provide a sense of the projects. Pleasant
View Gardens includes townhouses for sale and for rent as well as a medium-rise
apartment building. In addition, a
day care building, a youth development center, and a community center are part
of the plan. He noted that
townhouses are the contemporary equivalent of the traditional row house--
offering a slightly larger home, often with a built-in garage.
Another project called Town Center Terraces includes market-rate homes,
senior rental units, and senior co-op units.
In addition, a community recreation center and pharmacy are included to
support the neighborhood. Heritage
Crossing, the third example, is currently under construction.
It will include both public housing rental units and ownership units, and
a park and day care center. The
crucial aspect of all of these projects is that they are not “just” housing,
but include spaces and services for the community.
summing up his remarks, Professor Sen noted that he sees great potential in the
row house as a model to reduce urban sprawl and to meet many demands for housing
urban dwellers. Realizing this potential would require a reduction of space
expectations from housing in the United States.
Our tendency to move ever outward to the suburbs and exurbs not only
creates vacant land, but also adds exponentially to the need for more roads
(cars, asphalt, malls, etc). Professor
Sen argued that incentives need to be offered to encourage smart growth and that
infrastructure needs to be in place to provide the services that support
communities. Rehabilitation of
older housing is good, but one needs to be cautious of gentrification and of
displacement of the population that so desperately needs housing.
It is a complex issue and not easily solved, but one for which everyone
has to recognize the win-win potential of improved urban housing and
“Indigenous Forms: The Significance and Future of the Baltimore Row House”
Belfoure’s remarks centered on the viability of rehabilitation, based on his
own work in Baltimore as an architect, particularly as an architect who has been
involved in numerous rehabilitation and renovation projects involving row houses
of many different eras. He showed
us the full range of possibilities, from the grandeur and luxury of the row
houses of the 19th-century gentry class to the economy, modesty, and
seemingly endless repetition of workers’ housing from the late 19th
and early 20th centuries.
noted that not all row houses are worth rehabilitating.
Problems of asbestos, lead paint, inadequate plumbing, limited parking,
and extremely small units make rehabilitation economically and commercially
unfeasible. He illustrated the
famous row of 56 units (the longest in Baltimore) on Wilkins Ave in the
southwest part of the city. These
are called “marble houses” because of the marble stoops lending them a
semblance of status and permanence. Mr.
Belfoure stated that, although the historic value of many of these rows is high,
there are too many to rehabilitate, since the costs are too high to be paid by
the current working-poor occupants.
a brighter note, Belfoure showed several examples of new row houses, such as
Spicer’s Run, built in 1999-2000. These
take their inspiration from the traditional row house, but are wider, higher
and, most importantly in Baltimore’s climate, air-conditioned.
The garages, inside each unit, have access to a back alley, which is
gated and accessible only to the residents.
They were sold out completely (at roughly $150,000/unit) at market-rate
(not subsidized) and are occupied primarily by African American city employees.
Belfoure cited other areas where he sees potential for rehabilitation.
Reservoir Hill, with its row houses ornamented with gables, bay windows,
swell fronts, and porches, is one such area.
This was an area built in the 1890’s for the upper middle class.
He laments that the city has taken an unsystematic approach to renovation
and advises that it concentrate on neighborhoods and services.
He sees good things coming from the Hope VI projects, in which residents
are provided with amenities to help their community function.
of Belfoure’s final examples was a large home, originally constructed for
Enoch Pratt, which had become a halfway house for recovering drug addicts.
The interior of the house had to be rebuilt completely, yet because it
was reconstructed with historic tax credits, historic elements were retained.
The historic tax credits helped both preserve the aesthetic interest of
the house and keep the costs manageable, though adding a formidable bureaucratic
layer. The units are rented to
graduate students at the Univ. of Baltimore for $800-$1200/month.
This is a success story, but provides housing to a limited group and
cannot be applied to all rehabilitation efforts.
Just a few blocks away from the Pratt house, are row houses that in
Belfoure’s view are hopeless for rehabilitation.
He argued that it is better to be realistic and in most cases, to knock
down what exists and rebuild something new on the model of the old.
as a “glass half-full type of guy,” Mr. Pencek led us through several
examples of success stories of the Baltimore row house.
While realistically noting the demographics of the city and the problems
of depopulation and disinvestment, of crime, and of poor schools, which make
living in the city undesirable in many respects, Pencek still remains optimistic
that the row house is an important tool to maintain the life of the city.
He noted that Baltimore is undertaking multiple initiatives to combat
sprawl and that currently 70% of the housing stock is row house (townhouse).
Relative to other American cities 70% is high and speaks to the potential
for reining in the outward movement of the population.
positive aspect of the Baltimore housing scene, according to Pencek, is that
Baltimore has more houses/housing units on the National Register than any other
city. Many qualities of the row
house, the bay windows, the painted window screens, the swell fronts, make the
housing type particularly interesting aesthetically and historically.
these qualities have not always been recognized or appreciated.
Pencek noted that the 1950’s and ‘60’s were particularly bad for
the row house, but in the 1970’s the situation began turning around with
incentives to rehabilitate. In the
Otterbein Homesteading Community, houses were offered for $1 with stipulations
to renovate quickly in order to encourage revitalization. Soon there were
pockets of livable housing brought about by renovation, block by block.
By the 1980’s some neighborhoods were so “hot” that the $1
incentive was no longer required. On
the other hand, in the ‘80’s there were few federal incentives to
rehabilitate, bringing about the creation of layers of tax credits (federal,
state, and city). In the ’90’s
various programs came to life to further encourage rehabilitation, such as the
Main Street Initiative, Community Legacy, the Maryland Heritage Area Program,
and the Save America’s Treasures program.
Currently they are working to have one area designated a National Park,
so that the National Park Service will come on board as a partner.
is optimistic that the federal, state, and city governments can work together to
provide a supportive environment for rehabilitation.
He hopes that others will see how the Baltimore row house is the perfect
solution to urban housing, providing medium density, human scale housing, and
combating urban sprawl and wasteful land-use practices.
The approach Pencek advocates is abolishing “non-contributing”
buildings, restoring what’s viable, and preserving the best of the old.
In sum, this is not far from Belfoure’s recommendations, with only
slightly greater emphasis on the value of federal and state incentives and
Historical Bibliography of the Built Environment in Baltimore and Maryland, compiled
by Richard Longstreth 1997, revised April 2001