An amazing community: Historic Union Square
By: Terri Kearns 10/02/08 2:00 AM Examiner Correspondent
Stunning architecture and a serene setting attract residents to Union Square, but it’s the community they find upon moving in that keeps them here.
“Without knowing anything else about Union Square, it was the beauty of the infrastructure — the park, the wide streets, the housing stock — that attracted us,” said Chris Taylor, four-year resident and three-year president of the Union Square Association.
Union Square is an often-overlooked neighborhood in southwest Baltimore. Huge brick row homes, many built before the Civil War, overlook wide, tree-lined streets and Union Square Park, a Victorian-era green space that encompasses a city block at the heart of the neighborhood.
“You get this grandness here that you don’t find in other neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “[We have] these 3,000-4,000-square-foot houses with great detail like 10-12-foot tin ceilings, huge gilded mirrors, marble fireplaces, wood floors with mahogany inlay, Henry Mercer craft tiles...”
“You fall in love with the architecture,” 24-year resident Karen Fretz said.
A number of architectural engineering courses left Fretz and her husband more discerning than the average homebuyer. When they found Union Square, Fretz’s husband (whom she described as a “Mennonite country bumpkin”) looked at these elaborate homes and said, “Now these are houses.”
For Fretz and eight-year resident Betsy Nix, a lot of socializing happens in front of their homes, while walking dogs or getting in and out of cars.
“For a while I parked in my garage, but then I realized I never saw anyone anymore,” said Nix, who promptly resumed street parking.
Taylor said he gets together with a core group of neighbors at least monthly for game night, cocktails and croquet, dinner and other activities including an upcoming Olympic Games that will take place at Carroll Park.
On a larger scale, the Union Square Association organizes regular events such as the annual progressive dinner held every spring and the annual Christmas Cookie Tour, Union Square’s famous fundraiser.
Other holiday events like Easter egg hunts and trick-or-treating cater to the families in the neighborhood, as does the four-year-old Southwest Baltimore Charter School.
“Our goal was to give families who have school-age children a reason to stay in the neighborhood,” said Erika Brockman, nine-year resident and a founder of the school.
Union Square also has a thriving arts community and a local nonprofit, Sowebo Arts Inc., whose mission is to promote area artists, thereby enriching the community.
“It’s the most diverse neighborhood in all of Baltimore,” Taylor said. “There are pockets of college kids, families with kids and families without, new residents and people who’ve been here forever.
“It’s become a really amazing community to live in,” he added.
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