Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Little Italy selling out?

Of all of Baltimore's ethnic enclaves Little Italy is probably the most authentic as the last vestige of Baltimore's original time as a city of immigrants. (Greektown is a close second and Highlandtown/Upper Fells Point may soon be serious competition for a modern version of an ethnic village).
St Leo the Great, Roman  Catholic Church
(Photo: ArchPlan Archive)

Little Italy is not just Italian restaurants, it is also Italian churches, Italian past-times (Bocce),has the popular outdoor movie night showing classic Italian films but it is home to actual Italians or descendants of Italians.

Little Italy's charm comes from the fact that here people still live above the store and that in this community residents never left the community for the suburbs. Until recently, that is. Now many of the first generation immigrants simply became too old to stay in the small rowhomes or died. Restaurants are vacant. For some years there has been great concern in the Italian community, who would sell out to whom and if the neighborhood could hold its own against the ever more popular Harbor East.

The now demolished neighboring post-war public housing project of Flag Court had represented a challenge that residents of Little Italy solved with resolve and vigilantism. But the gentrification coming from Harbor East represents a more difficult problem to combat, especially if the flow of new immigrants from Italy has long subsided.

The Della Notte restaurant slated to be replaced by a 16 story mixed use tower was an easy to absorb loss, even though it would cut the enclave off from the view from President Street, it was a late and not very authentic addition anyway. But a Secret Santa style real estate offering of an entire block of small homes, that is another category of onslaught.  Those little houses to be sold and replaced with something much bigger? That can only mean Harbor East is marching right right into the heart of the small scale community!

Joseph Scalia, the real estate agent behind the secret offering sees no problem, he received "unbelievable offers". With a frankness reminiscent of the late Supreme Court justice namesake Scalia told the BBJ:
"The neighborhood is ready...  I can say that the listing includes institutional icons, These properties have not been on the market for three or four generations and currently house businesses which are fixtures in both the neighborhood and the city. The idea is to redevelop it as a mixed-use residential project — maybe senior, market rate — for people who want to move back to the neighborhood. The location is really hot"
well kept rowhouses in Little Italy
(Photo: ArchPlan Archive)
There is no local historic District designation for Little Italy, no protection at all. Now when the actual people of Little Italy are not there anymore in the necessary number to hold the place, it may be time to think about regulatory restrictions.

As far as design and historic protection goes, the tight knit community doesn't have a good history. Critical gateways and vistas for the approaching visitor have been a large parking garage at Pratt Street and a few vacant lots along President Street.

Is it already too late to save this iconic Baltimore community?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article: An entire block of Little Italy for sale
History of Little Italy

Below a little photo tour of the community

Film night

wall painting

St Leo's interior 

Bocce, a national pasttime

Old World backyard charm (Photo: ArchPlan Archive)

Like stepping into a home in La Puglia: The modest quarters of an old lady on Exeter Street whose crafty realtor
relative relocated her into a nursing home. (Photo: ArchPlan Archive)

Exeter Street a few years back with Harbor East rising in the background
(Photo: ArchPlan Archive)

In Little Italy the church is still the largest structure. Roofs with St. Leo in the background
(Photo: ArchPlan Archive)

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