Old Hampden/New Hampden

Seeing last night’s “The Day the Earth Stood Cool” episode of “The Simpsons” – in which Homer’s cool neighbors from Portland, OR, transform Springfield into a Mecca of Hip – made me reflect about our own cool neighborhood of the moment, Hampden.

Portland hipster Terrence gives Homer a Cool Makeover.

Don’t get me wrong – I like Hampden.  But today’s super-hip Hampden and the Hampden I knew back in the 1990s almost seem like two different places. Back then, Hampden was still like Fells Point before it was completely overrun by developers and the nouveau rich. Hampden in the ’90s was full of “real” working class people, dive bars and functional shops that hadn’t yet been completely “discovered” or “repurposed” by yuppies, Millenials and the bohemian arts community. (Admittedly some of those “real” people and bars were downright scary!)

It had a Murphy‘s five-and-dime store for all your shopping needs, a 7-11 and Royal Farm subbing for coffee cafes, a video store that stocked porn and action films (and whose clerks had never heard of the “Criterion Collection”), and real hons cutting your hair that had never heard of “organic” shampoos. The only “recycling” took place at motorcycle repair shops. Across Falls Road, low-lifes could get blow-jobs from indigenous junkie hookers starting at $5. And the dirty old man who ran Sugar’s Gym would pull his wallet out and show complete strangers naked pictures of his track-marked teenage “girlfriends.”

Now there seems to be a new trendy boutique popping up on The Avenue every other week selling organic wares, knitting gear, pricey t-shirts adorned with rats or tentacles, $15 hamburgers, and over-priced pre-packaged kitsch (as opposed to the “ironic” kitsch one used to find in places like Murphy’s!). There are wine bars, liquor stores selling fancy microbrews alongside Natty Boh,  and whole stores dedicated to pet accessories.  The neighboring upscale Clipper Mill community is now starting to look like Federal Hill and boasts one of  the area’s most expensive restaurants in Woodberry Kitchen. Sidewalks that used to be filled with teenage girls pushing strollers are now filled with dog-walkers and joggers. And street parking spaces throughout The Avenue are now angled – perhaps the surest sign that the gentry have moved in.

That’s why I enjoyed coming across this 1998 City Paper article by Michael Anft that anticipated the coming cultural divide between the native and the new Hampden and reminded me of its old, charmingly authentic haunts – like Showalter’s, the restaurant/bar that became today’s insanely popular Rocket to Venus.

— Tom Warner

*******************

UNEASY STREET

Can Old Hampden Coexist with the New Avenue?

By Michael Anft (City Paper, 2/25/1998)

Hampden Food Market (photo by Michelle Gienow)

Cigarette smoke billows around pushed-together tables, and the accumulated roar of conversations drowns out a country song on a jukebox. A crew of 16 people downs plates of Old Bay–doused seafood and pints of beer. It’s Wednesday, and that means it’s Shrimp Night at Showalter’s.

For the vanguard of the new Hampden — “the interlopers,” some jokingly call themselves — Shrimp Night at this watering hole at Chestnut Avenue and 34th Street is a can’t-miss event, at which participants enthusiastically dish dirt while cleaning their plates. Besides the owners of Hampden’s newer, more upscale establishments on West 36th Street — known provincially as “The Avenue” — a few slummers of sorts have become semiregulars at Shrimp Night over the past couple of years, lending the happening a hipster cachet.

Gustafson’s Antiques owners (from left) Margo Goldman, Duane Schline, and Michal Makarovich gather at Showalter’s, where new Hampdenites gather for Shrimp Night and chili cookoff (photo by Michelle Gienow)

Local film- and TV-casting legend Pat Moran and her unbelievably red head hit the scene on this night. On previous Wednesdays, Rebecca Hoffberger, American Visionary Arts Museum director and darling of the artistically dispossessed, has made the trip down from tony Greenspring Valley. (“I always tell her, ‘Rebecca, it’s good to see you with Old Bay under your fingernails,'” says Michal Makarovich, co-owner of Gustafson’s, an antiques, junque, and collectibles shop on The Avenue.) Tony Award–winning actor and Baltimore native John Gloverhas made at least one cameo at Showalter’s. Every now and then Bill Henry, an aide to City Council President Lawrence Bell, makes an appearance. Although Henry is black — which might mean trouble to many in lily-white Hampden — he’s more than welcomed by the Shrimp Night crowd.

“You can see how things are changing in the neighborhood right here in this bar,” says Cheryl Wade, who bought in as a co-owner of New System Bakery on The Avenue last year and is a Shrimp Night regular. Newer Hampdenites, she says, “don’t really care what you are — black or white, gay or straight. Plus, Gary [Showalter] has portabello mushrooms.”

Meanwhile, 12 blocks away — in an area on Hampden’s fringe, known (sometimes derisively) as The Bottom — the Clipper Mill Lounge sits dark and quiet in the shadows of the old mill district and the hulking concrete supports of the Jones Falls Expressway. Trendy businesses have repopulated empty storefronts and spruced up crumbling facades on The Avenue a half-mile or so away, but three blocks to the south of the Clipper Mill Lounge’s spot on Union Avenue there is a telling counterpoint. Many houses, some dating back nearly 200 years, sit boarded up, “with people still living in some of them,” says Wade, who at one point led a move to oust slum landlords from The Bottom. Burned-out hulks lend Baldwin Street the air of a war zone. Laundry hangs from lines connected to an Ash Street house with more broken windows than intact ones.

Continue reading “Uneasy Street” at Baltimore City Paper.

This entry was posted in 1990s, 2010s, Baltimorons, Dining, Dreamlanders, Hampden, Kitsch, Neighborhoods, Roadside Attractions and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Old Hampden/New Hampden

  1. Yup. I first moved to Baltimore and lived in Hampden in 2007 and even then I could see the contrast of old and new. My first Hon Fest was a real show of this. Festive folks from all over the place swarmed down to make a fun mockery of the place while wife-beater wearing tattooed white boys told them to go fuck themselves as they grabbed their crotches and dropped their empty 40’s in the gutter.
    I loved Hampden. Since I moved out in 2010 it seems like there’s a new trendy/hipster joint opening every week. I really miss the neighborhood and the neighbors. I don’t miss the speed at which it has become whatever it is becoming. At least developers didn’t flatten half of the neighborhood to build high rise condos.

  2. Whenever I’m in Hampden a quick flashing of the abject racism that existed there hits my mind. When I mention to my younger friends that the KKK used to march through there it’s seems so foreign to them. Which I take as a good thing.

  3. And 20 years from now a new generation will claim Hampden as their own while poking fun of the old people with tattoos and ironic t-shirts and skinny jeans and fixed-wheel bikes and hardware in their faces… Change is inevitable, life goes on. Hampden is the perfect mix of both old and new.

  4. Jenn says:

    I have lived in Hampden my whole life, and now IT SUX!! Yuppies are overtaking our neighborhood and the prices of housing is skyrocketing. It seems that the developers are trying to rid Hampden of all of the “REAL LOCALS” who are honest, working class people whom most of drag their knuckles on the ground, working hard to earn their pay.
    I truly miss Hampden from the 1990s. I wish the indy stores and antique stores never came around here.

  5. Jenn says:

    I also remember the KKK marching through Hampden and having rallies around the rec center. It was racist, but the neighborhood was safe back then. Now, just recently, the rich yuppies are attracting robbers to our neighborhood. Just last month there were a few people robbed in Hampden. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

  6. Why are there no pics of the KKK marching? It’s like the urban Bigfoot legend of Hampden. Did they were hoods and all that? I have seen newspaper articles mentioning that.

  7. David says:

    I grew up in Hampden, closer to Medfield . It’s amazing to see a neighborhood literally transform itself into something else, from a scrappy working class neighborhood to a art and boutique shopping mecca. Let’s just say for starters, that this change really can’t be so bad. As neighborhoods can get worse in contrast. That said, Hampden offers a little something for everyone, keeping quite a bit of that old charm with a new face. There’s still Demitris’ on Fall’s Rd for instance, if you wanna slum it, old Hampden style. There’s still the random teenager pushing a baby carriage. Yes in the 80s/90s I saw my share of 12 year old girls pushing carts. Seriously, there were instances where there was no baby in there, I always jokingly wondered if they were practicing for the inevitable early pregnancy with some idiot white trash neighborhood guy.

    The dark side of the beast is the still present hick-ignorant white population, racist and shitty to deal with. They’re still there to this day and probably not going anywhere anytime soon, until property taxes push them out. I do recall, mid-late 80s,
    driving south on Roland Ave, approaching 36th, and seeing a few fully dressed white robe kkk folk on the SW corner of the street, promoting, or whatever. It’s testament to the neighborhood. It was and still mainly is a white dominated neighborhood. In the 80s and 90s, before the gentrified trove moved in, when Hampden was not yet deemed cool enough to outweight it’s funkiness, there was a racial divide. My street, by coldspring lane, was white. The neighboring street was literally ALL black, not kidding. There was plenty of disputes when lines crossed. it was a divide for sure. And Hampden waayyyy back certainly was not fond of mixing it up or interested in trendsetting racial mixing.

    So some things die hard. For Hampden, the racial thing will always be there, deep down in many people’s hearts. BUT the neighborhood is in a wonderful position to fully integrate it’s past and present into it’s future. I think it’s amazing the changes and heck, it’s time for most neighborhoods to shed their robe and try on something new. Take a fuller perspective of what the neighborhood offers, just a few things come to mind off the bat: Hon fest, Hampden Fest, Annual Christmas Parade (1st sat of Dec), shopping on and off the avenue itself, the restaurants, awesome array of bar choices and very easily can bar hop around, Royal Farms fried chicken to order, John Water’s Pecker and interest in Hampden, close proximity to downtown (5 mins tops) and beltway via 83, and let’s not forget Miracle on 34th street.

  8. Don Williams says:

    Yep, I worked in Hampden during the early 70’s, the rule in Hampden was if your black you must be gone by sundown. Every now and then some fool black family would try to move in the area, but within a few weeks they were gone. This kept Hampden’s real estate stable, and also made the neighborhood quite safe.
    I remember once some blacks dudes were chasing me in a car over up around the Pimlico area, all I did was drive very fast into Hampden, they turned around real quick !!!! LOL

  9. Curtis Matthews says:

    Don just crawled out from under his racist rock.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.