ON THE SOAPBOX:
On Becoming a Hampdenite
The first house I owned was in Charles Village. My then-husband and I bought it for $5,000. (Yep! That's right. $5,000) Which was cheap even for 1975.
I loved the place. Built in 1917, no one had ever done anything to it. It still had only one layer of wallpaper on the walls, the original varnished woodwork, and nothing in the kitchen but a stove on legs, a sink that came up to my knees and a scrap-wood hutch cupboard.
I lived in Charles Village for 20 years, and the one thing I liked best about it—whether in my first house or the ones that came after—was that it was a real neighborhood: a sit-on-the-porch in the evenings, talk-over-the-backyard-fence kind of neighborhood. I don't know if it's still like that—I haven't lived there for the last 10 years—but I've missed that.
The places I've lived in since—two years in the suburbs (I'm sorry; I strayed.) and eight years in Roland Park with my mother—these places were okay, but isolated. I don't like isolated.
So, when my mother died in April and I began looking for a home of my own, I looked to the place that still seemed as if it is the kind of neighborhood I like. I looked to Hampden.
I didn't find a house for $5,000. Even a shell in Hampden these days goes for $39,000.
I actually put a contract in on that shell, but I got beat out by a developer. That's the biggest problem with Hampden house-hunting these days: developers seem to get in and scoop up all the bargains, so that they can renovate them and drive up the prices. I lost six houses that way, so I speak from experience.
In the end, however, I was glad they'd beat me out, because I finally found a place that spoke to me the way my little house on Howard Street had. It, too, has varnished woodwork and natural wood floors. It doesn't have a sink that only comes up to my knees (Im tall); thank goodness it has one that, for the first time in my life, actually comes up to my waist. I think it was installed sometime around 1933. (Cast iron and porcelain.) It could be later, but the house has other, not just modern, but Moderne touches, like curved plaster walls in the bathroom.
I love my house, but what really sold me on it was my street... my neighborhood.
While I was waiting for my real estate agent, I met my first neighbor. We talked for maybe 20 minutes.
Every time I go over to my new place, I meet and talk with someone new, and they always seem to have some time to talk. Things seem to run slower there. People take the time; people make the time.
I haven't even moved in yet, and I already know and have talked to six of my neighbors. They seem to be an eclectic mix of blue collar and professional. There's an artist I haven't met yet; there's a transplanted Virginia farmer that I have. There are children and elderly. There are gay and straight. Thanks to them, I already know my trash day, when the recycling pick-up is, and some of what's happening on the block.
In the near-term, I'm looking forward to going to Bingo for the first time (I'm told it's just down the street). And I can hardly wait to see what the old warehouse on the corner looks like when they're finished turning it into loft apartments. (Developers do have their uses!)
In short, what's great about this place is that, once again, I get to not only have neighbors, but I get to be one. The kind of person who cares if someone needs help with his groceries or can't get her car started. A person who shares recipes at Christmas and offers a cup of coffee when you're shoveling out your car on a cold winter's day.
I like helping out. I like being involved. I like Hampden. I hope I get to live there for a long, long time.
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This story was published on November 7, 2001.