on lessons from south baltimore

AF: How much do you think that you bought lessons from South Baltimore here, as far as neighborhood and community?

CH: Yeah. For myself, not very much, really.  Because I moved to Baltimore from Annapolis. So I was very involved in the Annapolis community and politics and activism. I was part of a tenants’ rights group in Annapolis. But when I moved to Baltimore, to move in with Dennis, I probably was only in that rowhouse in South Baltimore for just a couple of years before we moved here.

But for Dennis, he bought a lot of what he learned. And in fact, when we moved in this neighborhood, Dale Hargrave, who I said, is the current president of New Greenmount West [Community Association], was already living here. And Dennis knew Dale, because Dale did recycling in South Baltimore and was part of the Recycling Coalition that Dennis and others were part of. So he had contacts everywhere. And he brought in our experience—which was his experience, much more than mine—of watching something that was vibrant and mixed and a wonderful soup of people become bland and vanilla. And healthy, I guess, but just… I don’t know.

Life left the streets for us. That’s how he saw it. I’m sure that people living there now don’t feel that way. It’s not to disparage them. But there was something that was there that he truly loved that left. And so he found it here. And he didn’t want to see it leave again. So he tried to figure out what happened in South Baltimore.

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on teaching art locally

CH: Dennis and I are political activists, too. We have both have been activists all our lives. So we wanted to get very involved in our neighborhood. And the first thing we did was we went over… There was school across the way from us—now a Montessori public school—but it had been called Mildred Monroe [School #32, Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School]. It was a public school. It was named after a janitor. One of the few, if not only, schools in Maryland, and maybe the country, I don’t know, named after a janitor.

We found out that they didn’t have an art teacher at the school. And we were horrified. We couldn’t imagine, either one of us, having gotten through school without art. So we decided to volunteer our time and to become the art teacher for Mildred Monroe on Fridays. We could only… You know, we had to do some real work, to make ends meet. So we picked Friday, and we became the art teachers for the kids at Mildred Monroe. And that was a wonderful entry into the community, because we’d meet all the kids, and then you’d meet their families and stuff.

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on neighborhood change

AF: From the perspective where you sit today, how do you really feel about your role in this community, and also looking ahead, as far as the evolution of this area?

BL: Well, I think the effect is when I was first living here, when Kate [Thomas] and I were first living here, until people started moving into the Copy Cat building, the neighborhood was actually pretty dangerous. We would get our cars broken into all the time, and stolen a number of times. We’d be calling about gunfights that you could actually see out the windows. Then, as the artists moved in, and they were up all hours of the night, that started to change.

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on creating the district & legalizing occupancy

AF: As far as city government is concerned, and the process of rezoning this building for live/work space, how did that get started?

BL: A lot of the spaces across the street in the Copy Cat Building, which was also part of Crown Cork and Seal, got occupied by fairly activist artists. One of them was David Crandall at the time. There was an entity that the state was creating called an arts and entertainment district. They created it with the idea that it was going to go to Highlandtown, where the Creative Alliance is. They tailored it right to them. And David Crandall initiated this procedure of, “Why should it go to them? It’s got to be competitive, so why don’t we compete for it?”

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on fells point & work

JF: I came to Baltimore in 1969 to go to Rinehart [School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art].

AF: As far as places within this metropolitan area that you’ve lived, where have you lived?

JF: Up until I got married, eight, nine, ten years ago now, I’ve always lived in the City. I started out in Parkville. Then I was separated from my wife and I went to Fells Point, back in the glory days of Fells Point. The City had bought up large portions of Fells Point because they wanted to tie [Interstate] 83 to [Interstate] 95. The remaining citizens of Fells Point got it blocked, because they got Fells Point declared an historic district.

AF: Were you part of that process?

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on the baltimore bike party

DH: Last night I was in here, and one of the trains whistled as it was leaving the station down here. That is so lovely. I mean, that’s right there, and  Penn Station’s out the window, and the activity!

I stuck my head out here the other night. I was watching a movie on the computer. All of a sudden, I heard this commotion out on the streets, which isn’t unusual, because there’s noise out here sometimes. But it’s like these people shouting real loud and boisterously. So I went to the window, and coming up Guilford Avenue, filling Guilford Avenue on both sides, are bicycles. There was evidently this bicycle fete [Baltimore Bike Party] that happened at night, because it was 9:30, quarter-to-ten.

The whole avenue was filled with bicycles going north. That flood of bikes continued for about twenty-five minutes. I stuck my head out the window and just watched.

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