Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Case Study 2.1: Bolton Hill

Just northwest of downtown Baltimore, Bolton Hill contains a large amount of the city's restored rowhomes. Block after block of bright red elegant brick rowhomes. In a city of hundreds of thousands, however, the 2,000 or so residents of the neighborhood don't constitute a significant share, but they do offer one of the best examples of 19th century living in the 21st century. Once home to notable people such as Woodrow Wilson and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it's nowhere near that exclusive today, but what characterizes Bolton Hill from many other rowhome areas in the city is not just the harmonious architecture, but the care the community has shown over the past few decades. Manicured gardens abound, and lamp posts mimic the Victorian age. None of that modern, horrid utilitarian stuff. One of the best features of Bolton Hill are the sidewalks, which are often red brick and make what would otherwise be a bland bit of concrete into a highlight. A few small parks pepper the neighborhood and a strong neighborhood association keeps things in check and organizes events. Students from nearby MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) inhabit many apartments and the college owns several buildings in the area, adding vitality to the neighborhood.    
One criticism I must make is that occasionally the sidewalks don't take priority, often too narrow when one considers trees and other plantings. The roads could easily be narrower or better still a mixed-use surface could be adopted. As is, even taking into account cars parked alongside of the road, three lines could comfortably fit where there are now two. Another minor issue concerns the narrow alleyways, what would otherwise be mews in England. Today they contain garages and an out of sight location to put out the garbage, but whereas in London a mews is just as attractive as the main road, here they're clearly an afterthought, messy with poor pavement and no architectural merit in the garages. It's a shame really, they could really be very nice. It's a waste of valuable land to ignore these alleys. 

Links with more Bolton Hill info:

F. Scott Fitzgerald's former home on Park Avenue
There we have it, Bolton Hill. Exploring the borders of the neighborhood can be quite a shock. Eutaw Place, the neighborhood's western edge, has some of the largest homes in the city and was once home to the wealthiest residents. But today, Eutaw Place borders neglected parts of the city and the homes have long since fallen into disrepair. A few of the surviving examples give a glimpse of the opulence of the age. It's heartbreaking to see the derelict homes, however, covered in soot and stonework dislodged. Like an old man whose children have deserted him, so much history to share but no one interested in hearing it. I hope they may one day see better days. Unlike an old man, a home can always be nurtured and polished for future generations. 

Fabulous Rowhouses in Fabulous Bolton Hill
flickr : taberandrew
flickr : Swedeitis
Eutaw Place, near Francis Scott Key Monument
flickr : snarlingsquirrel