Los Angeles Times

Middle-class mix acts as anchor

Special to The Sun

Park Heights Avenue, which runs through the center of Glen, has been the path to a better life for two very different groups of people.

First, Jewish people who had originally settled in East Baltimore in the mid-19th century made their way to the northwestern corner of the city along Park Heights, achieving the suburban way of life.

Next came Baltimore's African-American middle class. No longer restricted to where they could live by segregation laws, they, too, moved northwest up the Park Heights corridor and became homeowners.

Today both Jews and blacks share the same middle-class values and work together to keep Glen stable and healthy. Their success is born out by the release of the 2000 census last month. The northwestern corner of the city, of which Glen is a part, was one of the very few areas to grow in population.

"We learn from each other, and we're concerned for each other," said Maxine Webb, a 31-year resident and a vice president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association.

"Glen symbolizes what a city should be," said Iris Smith, president of the association, who bought her first home here 25 years ago. To Smith, this means a community where one can own home in a safe, tranquil setting with squirrels and opossum but still is only a few minutes away from the Metro station.

At 84 blocks, it's one of the biggest neighborhoods within the city, but many don't know its name. Some think of the area as simply the Park Heights community. "We're working on getting a sign to identify the neighborhood," Smith said.

Because of its size, Glen is a microcosm of a city, containing every housing type there is from two-family houses, garden apartments and condominiums to large, impressive single-family houses such as those on Menlo Drive. "There's something for everyone," Smith said.

Dr. Arthur Weissman, a vice president of the association, owns a home that was built in 1922. "We bought the house because it was large and gracious with nice appointments," he said.

There are many 1920s homes -- like Weissman's -- throughout Glen including Tudor, French Norman, and neo-Colonial, many solidly built out of brick or stone. One English-style home on Fordham Drive recently sold for $165,000.

Prices in the last 12 months have ranged from $35,000 for a condo unit on Clark's Lane to $72,000 for a semi-detached house on Bartwood Road. Many of the single-family homes in Glen sell for $80,000 to $90,000.

As in a lot of city neighborhoods, trash is an issue. Glen has been affected by the influx of public housing families displaced by the razing of high-rise projects downtown. According to Webb, littering and loitering are two recent problems the neighborhood has faced as a result.

"It's not to the point we can't stop it," Webb said. "It takes educating some residents they can't set out their trash in plastic bags because it attracts rats, or they can't just throw things on the ground."

Park Heights Avenue has been nicknamed the "Rue de la Synagogue" for good reason. Many large temples such as Har Sinai and Beth Jacob were built in the 1950s and 1960s and are still in use. And with the new influx of young Orthodox Jewish families in the 1990s, some large houses along the avenue that once housed families have been converted into synagogues.

This hasn't been a problem, according to Weissman. Instead, it's a kind of a barometer of health for Glen. "They're the lifeblood of the community," he said.

The most important long-standing Jewish presence in Glen is the JCC -- or as it's officially known, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Jewish Community Center. "We provide a wide range of educational, recreational and cultural activities that enhance the quality of Jewish life," said Phyllis Hersh, spokeswoman for the JCC.

The facility contains a pool, gym and health and fitness center that's open to everyone. There's an extensive adult education program, sports leagues for children and softball for adults 35 and older.

In addition, the JCC puts on several professional art exhibitions a year.

In recognition of the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union and other communist bloc countries into the neighborhood, the center has a program to help these new arrivals. "The JCC provides them a place to meet and celebrate commemorative occasions and holiday events like Purim," Hersh said.

Although Glen was first developed in the early 1900s, many of its houses and especially its apartment complexes were built after World War II.

Reisterstown Road Plaza was opened in 1962 on the former property of the St. Vincent's Sanatorium. The shopping center, which once had anchor stores such as Hecht's, has been struggling in the 1990s. One of its major tenants, Hechinger, went out of business a few years ago.

"The main thrust of the neighborhood association and the Reisterstown Merchants Coalition is to improve the shopping there," Weissman said. One positive sign came when the Burlington Coat Factory took over a large space.


Commute to Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Cross Country Elementary School, Falstaff Middle School, Pimlico Middle School, Northwestern High School

Shopping: Reisterstown Road Plaza, Greenspring Shopping Center, Owings Mills Town Center

ZIP code: 21215

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