PILE OF CRAP NEWSLETTER August 3, 2007
(an homage to Rupert and the tangled webs we weave when self interest is our only motivation)
The entire content is the responsibility of ken and some haphazard research
Homestead history, Part I
In this issue, I’m making a start at compiling an informal history based on recollections reported to me by original homesteaders as well as on personal experience. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To help us avoid that fate, please review the following and contribute to this important effort by filling in blanks from your own knowledge.
In the mid 70s there was a block with a bunch of tiny rundown houses—much like blocks you see all over the City today. With the vision and help of City Councilmember Barbara Mikulski, community leader Betty Hyatt and others, the houses on the West side of the unit block of South Durham Street were sold to for a dollar each to eight homesteaders—some bought two. The original homesteaders moved into their houses in 1975 and 1976; the ones with whom I still have contact are Glendora Finch (No. 6); Calvin H Brooks (Nos. 16-18); and Pat and Chuck Frascati (formerly of Nos. 20-22). (I will interject the arrival times of current owners at appropriate chronological points.) At the time the West side homestead houses were being rehabbed, the City demolished the houses on the East side and a stable that backed up to Old Saint Michael’s School. In 1976 Baltimore City completed constructing a park on the East side of the block in the parcel known as 7 South Durham Street, planting grass, trees and shrubs and installing a brick walkway and benches. In front of the walkway a paved parking area was constructed: ten wooden posts were sunk, creating eight parking slots for the eight rehabilitated houses. According to two sources, the City originally gave the homesteaders an informal easement for use of the parking, and promised them that if they lived in the houses for two years and maintained the park, permanent rights to the parking slots would (somehow) be formally vested for the eight houses. Maintaining the park included paying for liability insurance and the water meter service within the park, as well as keeping the area clean, mowing the grass and trimming the trees and shrubs.
Though the homesteaders did not establish a formal neighborhood organization when this alley experiment began, for the first few years the homesteaders all participated in the upkeep of the park and took turns maintaining records (which were eventually lost). I am told that in these early days group clean-up events often culminated in a neighborhood barbecue or other gathering. Liability insurance for 7 South Durham Street was paid by the eight neighbors; annual premiums began at about $200, and the rates rose every year (even though there were no known claims). Original homesteaders came and went; some houses were rented out for various periods; and in the absence of any formal agreement or process, money became difficult to collect. Somehow the park continued to be kept in a reasonable state even after the original collective began to break up.
Somewhere along the line the insurance became too expensive—and everyone wasn’t putting contributions into the proverbial Pile—so the homesteaders ceased to pay for the insurance. Similarly, payments for the water meter ceased and service to the park was discontinued. (We suspect that these changes may have precipitated the transfer of the parcel from whatever City entity originally held it for purposes of the homestead project to the Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”)—but only HCD would know for sure; Councilman Kraft has been trying to persuade HCD to research their files.) Nonetheless, the parking remained and the weary began to pay others to trim the Park, although money was sometimes difficult to collect. Occasionally the City was called in to do some of the work. Pat Boyle moved into No. 30 in 1987. Lorie Mayorga bought Nos. 12-14 for much more than a dollar in 1992 and was told by the realtor that the parking space in front (still bounded by wooden posts) came with the house. No one informed her of the deal with the City or what expectations there were of participation in the upkeep of the Park. NO FORMAL GROUP!!! She learned quickly, however, since the community lawn mower was stored in her basement and a few of the neighbors came to her door to use it and return it. For spring and fall cleanings, Calvin took responsibility for arranging for paid helpers and collected contributions from door to door to defray the expenses.
In the mid 90s the parking posts were removed. I’ve heard different versions of this: Some say all of the posts were rotted; some recall that the purpose was to expand from eight to ten spaces—theoretically to benefit everyone with space for occasional guests, workmens’ trucks, and the like. In any event, all of the posts were removed and none were replaced. I’ve been told that no money was collected, and no vote held, regarding this activity. Regardless of the original purpose of the post removal, the ultimate outcome has been that one homeowner in each 4-house parking bay has permanently occupied two of the five spaces: Calvin spread out his cars in the North bay, and Pat parked two vehicles side by side in the South bay.
On July 5, 1997 I connected with Lorie at the Whistling Oyster and immediately became part of her household with the cat and the dog. I fixed the back yard and discovered the lawn mower and was told this was the community mower. Michael Kelleher, a gardening enthusiast who then occupied Nos. 8-10, convinced me also to help him pick up trash in the Park—partly with an eye to saving cash we’d otherwise spend on outside assistance. I began cutting the grass (well, weeds) that summer. Things had definitely changed since the early years that I now hear about. Calvin had a beige van without tags and a classic older Mercedes that was not usually in running condition. Lorie parked an ’86 VW Golf. Pat took care of his tree at the Southern End of the Park.
Lorie and I moved to Chicago in the Spring of 1999 (where we were married on July 5), and rented Nos. 12-14 to two young ladies with the rule that they park their cars in tandem. I attempted to arrange for Glendora’s young son to take over mowing the weeds, and asked our tenants to give him access to the lawn mower. We learned later from Calvin that our tenants occasionally took up more than their allotted tandem space because of visiting boyfriends. The young women moved out after 14 months. While cleaning the house and waiting for renters I cut the grass in the park. Let me say that again—I drove in from Chicago and cut the grass. By the way, I recall that the first potential renter to look at the house arrived in a limousine and said she was moving up from Florida with her boyfriend so that she could accept a managerial post with Baltimore City Public Schools. She liked the house but said the neighborhood scared her. I commented that if she was going to work in the Baltimore City School System she better open her mind a little. When Lorie and I returned to our house in 2002 I recognized the lady’s picture in the Sun (when she left town from under a pile of crap). Back to the summer of 2000—we quickly rented the house to two young men (though the house had three bedrooms and two baths and a vanity room with an extra bathroom sink). Again, the young men were told that they were entitled to the one tandem parking slot for two cars, and they were also told about the obligation of park care in exchange for parking—and, again, I’m not sure how well they complied.
Lorie and I moved from Chicago to Rockville, Maryland so her elderly mother could move in with us. Lorie worked for a law firm two blocks from the White House. 911 happened. The war zone of DC was not a good place. Calvin was working at the Pentagon at the time. Lorie took a lot of time off from work.
Meanwhile, our young tenants in Nos. 12-14 were falling behind in their rent. An insurance adjuster called us and said that there had been a break-in through the front kitchen window and a lot of expensive stuff was stolen. When I came to visit our house I saw that Calvin’s house was boarded up; I was told there had been a fire. I also found that Pat and Chuck had sold Nos. 20-22 (to move to a suburban locale with a nice yard for the grandchildren to play in). A dumpster took up Calvin’s parking spaces. Calvin later explained that the fire had been traced to a fault in his telephone system. Nos. 16-18 had been declared a total loss and the insurance luckily provided for a complete rehab with money left over.
When the boys moved out in the Spring, and Lorie’s mother moved to her son’s house on the Eastern Shore, Lorie and I decided to return to Baltimore. Calvin had one vehicle parked on the block when we moved back. The contractors working on Calvin’s house at the time told us that his intercom system could detect a pin drop anywhere in the block. I began cutting the weeds again in the park; Michael of Nos. 8-10, however, had adopted a toddler and no longer participated in the trash pickup. Nancy West had moved into No. 28 and was energetically working to preserve the greenery—for instance, cutting the vines that had begun to engulf many of the trees in the park. Trent and Elizabeth had bought Nos. 20-22, and Jerry Withers had purchased, restored, and placed tenants in Nos. 24-26. Sean of No. 30 helped Nancy cut back the trumpet vines in the South end of the Park. Nancy began roto tilling and planting flower beds. We brought with us some gardening tools we had needed in Suburbia, including a mulching mower. And of course Pat continued to care for his tree.
In the summer of 2002, inspired by the energy that Nancy had been putting into the park’s planting, Lorie and I drove over to Silver Spring and purchased two magnolia trees and a (less-invasive) climbing vine for the tall fence in the back of the Park. Jerry Withers kindly chipped in a hundred bucks towards the greenery we had purchased for $330.00. My brother-in-law allowed us the use of his pickup truck to transport the saplings. The magnolia trees were intended for two tree wells in the brick walkway that had been vacant for some years. Trent of Nos. 20-22 and Sean of 30 helped me dig the holes for the magnolia trees. When we removed the iron grates that were covering the empty tree wells we encountered rat holes. We bought poison, filled the rat holes with it, blocked the entrances with mulch and replaced the iron grates after planting the trees. The trees are still alive; the one in the Southern end has grown much larger, probably due to the sunlight.
I began driving a taxi in October of 2002. I asked permission of my next-door neighbors, Calvin and Michael, to use the extra (fifth) space, since I was responsible for keeping the rented taxi 24/7 during rental periods. This worked out because Calvin was down to one vehicle, an Explorer. At this time we were not aware of any conflict about the use of the ten spaces—but there was also no pressure of nearby development. Likewise, there was still no formal structure for allocating work or expenses, and no reason to expect or seek funding for any work in the park. On December 30, 2002 we had a grease fire in our kitchen; I was burned but continued to drive after a brief hospital stay—(photo www.mayopia.com, Baltimore by Taxi, Winter 2003). The insurer did a lot of work, including replacing the countertops; but even when the countertop below the window through which the break-in allegedly occurred was removed, there was no glass to be found inside the house, not a shred. This suggested to me that the boys had faked the robbery, but it was too late for me to do anything about it. A blizzard occurred in February, 2003, when my burned arm and hand were not yet healed; fortunately for us, Calvin collected money and organized the digging out of the alley with paid helpers. I couldn’t wield a shovel to help, but thanks to Calvin I was able to get the taxi back on the street by the 18th.
During the filming of Ladder 49 in April, 2003, the funeral scene down Lombard Street, portable toilets were put in the park for use by the City workers and crew from the film company. I happened to strike up a conversation with a City worker and mentioned the hill of dirt on the Southern end that was mixed with hypodermic needles and other unsanitary debris. I also mentioned my understanding that the neighborhood was responsible for the bulk of the maintenance of the park in exchange for parking, but said that some things (like used needles) should probably be handled by professionals. He suggested that I place a call to the City, on the theory that considering the money we saved the City by taking care of the park they should be happy to do it. (See www.mayopia.com, Baltimore by Taxi, April 2003 for pics of the fireman’s funeral. When I called the City I also asked that they help with bush pruning as well, as the shrubs certainly had gotten out of control. A crew did show up to remove the pile of dirt and “sharps,” and they informed me I would have to call a different department to get the bushes trimmed. When I placed this further call I learned that Calvin had called the Department of Recreation and Parks in the summer of 2001 to request work on the park’s plantings, and they had topped off a couple of bushes, leaving stumps, in the North end of the Park against the fence bordering on Saint Michael’s.
In the summer of 2003 I invested in a Jeep Cherokee and turned it into a taxi, leasing a medallion from Baltimore Taxi and outfitting the Jeep with the proper equipment since I questioned the legitimacy of meters in a lot of the taxis that Baltimore Taxi had on the road. I heard the complaint often: “ They’re quick but they sure are expensive.” I wanted to separate myself with my own brand of vehicle and quickly developed a following when I finally got the taxi on the road full time in October of 2003. That summer a lot of work was accomplished in the Park. Trent was motivated to improve the block because he wanted to sell Nos. 20-22, so he worked with me to cut back the bushes in the center of the South end of the park in front of his house. The Southern end was just too much to consider at the time. I began to concentrate more on the Northern bushes for security purposes and removal of sleeping cover. Nancy planted things in the Northern garden but the only access to a spigot at the time was Calvin’s. Nancy, Lorie and myself all hauled water at one time or anther but that wasn’t enough to salvage the garden on the whole though one of Nancy’s plantings in the North end has managed to survive and thrive. The main reason for this is lightning: Lightning has struck the tree overhanging the garden on a few occasions and this has given me the incentive to cut the tree back and remove limbs, both granting more light and more rainfall to the garden space. Other plantings simply had no success because there still wasn’t enough water; and Calvin’s spigot was the closest. No offer was made for the volunteer use for the Park. I’ll leave it at that—the Park has always been a volunteer effort.
Calvin moved in his Jaguar in Spring of 2004. Old Saint Michael’s School was for sale. We learned that the City owned the Park, but were still under the impression that there was a deal—an informal easement for homestead tenants’ use of the parking spaces in exchange for the the care of the park. Also that year Avon Kendrick bought Nos. 8-10. He rented the house to a Latino family with one child and no vehicle. I was driving a taxi full time but still cut the grass in 2004. An article was written about my photography in The City Paper and I implored the writer to include the quote about Baltimore taxi and their crooked meters. The medallion I had been leasing was scraped off the jeep early one Sunday Morning in November, 2004. (See www.mayopia.com, Baltimore by Taxi.) The week after that took place I walked outside to find two young black kids jacking up the front of the jeep and attempting to steel the wheel. A police report was filed. Another night my wife and I were returning home on a rainy evening; while my wife was unlocking the front door to the house; she was carrying a leather briefcase and a purse. I was emerging from the JEEP I was accosted by a young black man, who showed me what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun and told me to get back in the car. I noticed that there was another young black man on the other side of the Jeep. I knew that it wasn’t a robbery. As he continued to implore me to get back in the car, I switched hands with my bandana covered camera, called very loudly to my wife to get in the house. She turned to face me and asked in a very firm voice, “What are you doing with my husband?” Maria from Nos. 8-10 next door opened her front door. The two boys ran off down the street. I called 911, got a busy signal—called 311 and got an “all the circuits are busy” recording. Not until late that night was I told by a cop that I should still file a police report. I did try. Though I had no medallion I still road the streets taking photos and a few friends continued to call me for rides. My business is production and so on and so forth and I raise money any legal way I can to provide funding for the creative and community oriented endeavors. (See http://www.mayopia.com/aboutus.html.)
A man owning 16 South Wolf spoke to several homestead owners, claiming ownership of land extending all the way West to Durham Street. Whatever his deed may have shown, however, was contradicted by the plat of the block that the State Department of Assessments and Taxation had recently forwarded with our new assessment values. Still, I was concerned enough to pay three hundred dollars (Jerry Withers contributed $100) to a local attorney, Ben Neal, to find out about the actual deal with the City for the park and parking. He told us that the deal was only a handshake, an “attaboy” for the homesteaders’ efforts to revive the alley block. According to the Frascatis (formerly of Nos. 20-22) it was more than that, but all the records pertaining to the homestead project, which were passed from house to house as different homeowners volunteered to keep them, have been lost. We began to talk about protecting the park by having it declared a greenspace, and I proposed naming it Barbara Mikulski Park. At first both Calvin and Glendora were in favor of the name idea and said that Councilmember Mikulski was very involved in the project in the mid-70s. The exact time frame of these conversations eludes me, but they did take place. Everyone on the block thought that naming the park after Barbara Mikulski thought it was a good idea. Even though Senator Mikulski declined my request, made in my own name, to name the park for her, I believe that she might respond differently to a collective request (particularly because she knows Glendora and Calvin, original homesteaders, are still here).
END OF PART ONE—TO BE CONTINUED—2004>the PRESENT: ANYONE WITH ANY COMMENTS TO FILL IN ANY BLANKS CAN E-MAIL: email@example.com
END OF PART ONE—TO BE CONTINUED—2004>the PRESENT: ANYONE WITH ANY
COMMENTS TO FILL IN ANY BLANKS CAN E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
A JAUNDICED EYE ON THE ABUSERS AND THE ABUSED Page 5 of 5
ken STUDIO 14
Linking Backwards USDHH,Inc: