The History of a Donated Break Room for Police.
Read about the front page article in the Sun here.
And the editorial.
And the front page article in the City Paper here.
This site originally began in July of 2002 as a chronicle of our progress building a substation for the police to use in the back of our old, vacant, former crack house at 1708 Madison Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland.
I'm Bryan. With brother Vaughn, we purchased the property in June of 2000. I had considered buying the house for six months after having read an ad in the City Paper, a local weekly.
When I first visited that cold January day, I had to enter via the fire escape and the one unboarded window into a bathroom on the second floor. It was like a haunted house. It had long before been scarfed into tiny apartments with ground floor offices. All were full of furniture and belongings, rotting from the water pouring in through holes in the roof. It was as if one day all the occupants had simply left, leaving everything behind, papers, photos, clothes, furniture.
I visited often in the ensuing months, exploring more of the house each time, making notes of what was needed: clearing, roofing, electric, plumbing ... everything. Trying to figure out if I could do it. I wanted a house to rehab, but was I up to a project like this? Today that's still a good question.
I looked around the neighborhood often before making an offer. I saw so many encouraging signs, except that to the west was an area that with each block looked worse and worse, derelict houses and people, obvious drug markets and vandalism. Not an area you want to drive through. Still isn't.
Much different in other directions. To the east is an affluent, upper middle class neighborhood of restored and maintained classic homes called Bolton Hill. There was new construction there just across Eutaw Place from us, now a sparkling townhouse development called Spicer's Run. To the north is Madison Park, a few blocks between us and North Avenue, a neighborhood of original row houses like this one, except these had for the most part never fallen into disrepair. Up just three blocks is the home of Congressional Representative Elijah Cummings.
Behind us was a major rebuilding for an apartment home for families in need, a project of Druid Hill Community Association. Now a handsome, well run building. Across Madison was a burned out apartment building like something out of a war zone, but it sported a big notice placard announcing a community center and describing what sounded like a vibrant, alive place that was to have day care, a restaurant, church offices, even a police substation was mentioned, I recall. This is now called the NIMROD center (an acronym for Neighbors something something), a project of the AME Payne Memorial church and Federal money. Payne is an affluent church with an impressive membership, including our State Delegate and City State's Attorney. Their church house is just three doors north of us on this block. Two years later, NIMROD is a beautiful building, secure at least, but practically vacant.
Three doors south of us and across Wilson Street is Eutaw Marshburn Elementary, proudly sporting a "Drug Free Zone" sign on its building.
Based on all this, I made a creative offer I didn't expect would be accepted, including money from the owner for repairs. It was. That should have been a clue. <g>
After closing, we spent six months clearing out debris and making repairs. In all, six 30 cubic yard dumpsters of debris were removed.
In January of 2001 I moved into a second floor apartment.
After a few months, Vaughn and his dog Boo joined me. He had been renting in Mt. Vernon and had been helping me with all the work, including holding the flashlight in the basement in January while we cleared the way for the BGE people to reattach the electric and gas. He was skeptical, but game and partnering with him has been essential.
The Drug Market.
There had been signs, in hindsight obvious ones, of the dealing and trouble here. Lots of cars coming and going at odd hours. Young men loitering for no apparent reason on Wilson. We were often approached with offers of "what do you want?" After a while they just ignored our comings and goings. And we ignored them.
Only after really moving in did it become clear how bad things were. "Greens, greens, greens out! Blues free!" Constant dealer loitering.
In the spring and summer of 2001 we rebuilt the roof down to joists over the carriage house in back. It became apparent there was a brisk crack trade in a vacant house at 402 Wilson Street, directly across from the school. I'd watch them all day long during the two months it took to do that work. There was a constant stream of business out of that building. Sometimes if they saw me, they'd ignore me. Some took to flashing me the finger or shadow puppeting a handgun, trying to intimidate. Here's a photo I sent to several in city hall trying to get this crack house closed down.
At that time, we were coming and going through the back door. We began to get more nasty looks and comments and finally threats. We decided to begin coming and going through the front after finding and fixing broken parts of old doors. The front of the house wasn't the center of attention that season.
Early December of 2001, we emailed the mayor offering the ground floor of the carriage house in the rear of 1708 Madison Avenue as a break room for the beat officers of our neighborhood. We were desperate to do something. We felt this would encourage more police traffic. Sergeant Kathleen Jackson had said many months before she would appreciate a decent rest room to use and a place to have her lunch without having to drive back to the station or way out of the neighborhood. Over time and thanks to so many police visits to the neighborhood, I got to know most of our other beat officers and they all said they'd appreciate a break room too. There are few restaurants or other decent places, especially at night.
The mayor replied to the email within a day to say he'd forwarded the offer to Commissioner Norris for follow up.
Many weeks passed and we thought nothing would come of it until two officers knocked on the door one morning to "see the proposed substation." I showed them the space and the parking area they would have. They gladly accepted.
We had hoped to have it opened by late spring of 2002, but like all progress around here, it took a lot more time and money than expected. Among other things, several floor and ceiling joists had to be replaced before a new subfloor could be built or the ceiling put in. The new ceiling was installed, plumbing and electric were repaired and replaced, paint and floor tile done.
This is how it was at one point ...
The space is at the rear of the lot off Tiffany Lane, the alley which connects to Wilson Street. It used to look like this ...
In the summer, I became aware of a very good website for the Bolton Hill neighborhood, http:www.boltonhill.org. Reasoning that people there were in a position to help and might want to, I posted a notice on their bulletin board entitled "News from the wrong side of the tracks." I have to admit I was skeptical. Bolton Hill has a reputation for snobbery and elitism among many. I was told it would be a waste of time to appeal to them but I could see it would be winter before we could afford to open the station on our own. We felt it was necessary to accept help if it was out there.
I began this website to describe what we were doing and posted a wish list for things like refrigerators, a microwave, sinks, a couch, furniture, etc. We paid for everything in the renovation of the substation that was part of the house itself, almost $3500, but we were willing to accept donations of things mission specific since we've had hope the substation would benefit us all.
To my amazement and great pleasure, many people responded. The first was Julie who asked me "what size microwave do you need?" I replied "I'll make the shelf fit whatever you've got," expecting an old microwave she no longer wanted. "No, I'm going to buy one for you." I was touched. And she was just the first. Refrigerator, bathroom vanity, couch, even the toilet and two faucets were all donated by neighbors.
Accepting donations brought with it a feeling of responsibility to finish the substation and get it open as quickly as possible. I began writing a journal of what was done, then called "status entries", often showing pictures. It was like "look, see what we got done today." It helped give us motivation as did the growing number of donors and readers of the site.
After a time, the journal began to include my observations of the neighborhood I saw from my window. It became equal parts progress on the substation and a running commentary on the circus of drug dealing that had come back around to the front of our house and the corner of Madison and Wilson.
The Grand Opening BBQ.
On September 18, 2002, we had a grand opening. The substation wasn't done, but I came to realize it was never going to be "done." We're always trying to improve it. But it was useable. Time to open.
WJZTV's Don Scott was MC and did a wonderful job. Council President Sheila Dixon and Councilwoman Pugh, from our district, spoke and cut the ribbon. Almost 600 hot dogs and hamburgers were gobbled up, especially by the local kids who worked up an appetite on the Moonbounce, set up in the middle of Madison Avenue in front of our house.
Thanks to the Moonbounce, the BBQ and the volunteers who made the day a success, it seemed a new day had come to this long neglected block.
Thursday morning we woke up to find ourselves and the story on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, above the fold no less. They also published an interesting editorial on page 14A, lower left corner, about community policing and the value of officers and citizens getting to know each other, a prime reason for the substation.
A place to kick back and eat lunch.
A warm place to use a clean restroom and to enjoy a snack or drink donated by neighbors and to microwave and store your lunch, whether that be at noon or 3AM.
For parking, the temporary fencing was brought in along both the back of 1708 and 1706. It's been leveled and prepared for a layer of asphalt when we can afford it. We hope to close on the lot, which the city agreed to sell us a while back, as soon as we can afford the purchase price, but that has not delayed the parking area or the substation.(email me at Bryan@RebuildingMadison.info)
I continue to write a journal here about progress. Now, it's more about progress trying to reclaim a neighborhood. Often it's filled with despair. Sometimes boundless optimism. I've praised, cajoled, criticized and generally ranted. I've remarked about how many officers on our beat use the substation and how they appreciate it. Occasionally, I've threatened to stop. Each time that's happened, every time we've been tempted to give up and run altogether, something happens to keep us with it, whether it's progress in some form or another or the outpourings of readers reminding me that the website and our saga have been an inspiration to many.
Now that you know what this is all about, there are a few places you can visit. You can peruse the latest Journal entries or the archives since I began here. Visit our Players page to find out more about the characters and places that play in the journal entries. You can sign our Guestbook and read other's comments. You're free to leave your own, too. And you can visit our Help page to see what's needed, see the Friends of the Substation list and perhaps join them.
Whether you're a neighbor from the block or on the other side of the country or world, a public official, someone considering moving to Baltimore, someone already here interested in where the city is going ... anyone of so many different readers here, welcome. The amazing number of people who read this site have helped encourage us to stick it out through some tough times. I hope this site is interesting, informative, helpful in some way. Whatever's brought you here, thank you for visiting and reading our little story.