A steady stream of cars is heading northeast on Belvedere Avenue on this humid late-August day. Parking spots along the street leading up to Belvedere Square are at a premium. The sidewalks are filled with lawn-chair-carrying concert-goers – young and old, black and white – heading to the final “Summer Sounds at the Square” event of the year.
The scene here encapsulates all that is attractive about Belvedere – and all that frustrates some residents of this North Baltimore neighborhood.
» Border streets: Belvedere Ave., York Rd., Benninghaus Rd., Bradhurst Rd.
» Neighboring areas: Chinquapin Park, Cameron Village, Mid-Govans, Rosebank
“This is one of the things we deal with as a result of business development,” LaVerne Nicholson Sykes, president of the Belvedere Improvement Association, says over the sound of blaring car horns earlier in the day. “It’s a headache, but because of special events only on Fridays for a certain amount of time, we tolerate it well. Parking becomes an issue, but we know that and just kind of deal with it.”
Such is the price of living in one of the city’s most attractive neighborhoods. An incredibly diverse, relatively safe area with strong housing stock and proximity to I-83, Belvedere has basically everything you’d want in a city neighborhood. At least that’s how Sykes saw it growing up near Douglass High in West Baltimore and making the occasional trip to the Hochschild Kohn department store on Belvedere and York.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where we walked to the library, we walked to shopping centers, we walked to the movies,” says Sykes, who’s lived in Belvedere for 25+ years. “We had accessibility, and that’s what drew me here. And my kids. I wanted my kids to have that same experience.”
The development of Belvedere dates back to the establishment of York Road as a wagon trail in the 1700s and later as part of the Baltimore-to-Pennsylvania turnpike in the 1800s. Frame houses were built near the thoroughfare and other major streets, such as Orkney Road, throughout the 19th century. Home construction continued through the ensuing decades, giving Belvedere a varied housing stock with bungalows, stone and brick colonials, traditional row homes and more.
The influx of residents into the area led to the development of the commercial hub at the intersection of York and Belvedere. The Senator Theatre, which underwent a significant rehabilitation in 2014, has been an anchor institution for the neighborhood since 1939. Hochschild Kohn and the Hess shoe store were stalwarts back in Sykes’ youthful days. Today, the Belvedere Square Market features a variety of restaurants, food stands and retail shops. Lynne Brick’s gym sits nearby, as does a Loyola University clinical center.
“When I moved here, there was a fear 15 years ago that – matter of fact it wasn’t an unfounded fear – the whole idea of Belvedere Square expanding and taking our homes was right in front of us,” says Kris Taylor, an active BIA board member who’s lived here for 15 years. “They said they needed more parking, and the only way you could get more parking was going south, and the only way south was our homes. They unveiled a map with our homes having buildings on top of them. It’s a Belvedere legend that someone stood up and said, ‘That’s my f****** house!’ And then the fight began.”
The residents won that round, but occasional battles have persisted throughout the years. Belvedere’s commercial district is rounded out by a handful of bar/restaurants, including Ryan’s Daughter, Grand Cru, Zen West and the venerable Swallow at the Hollow. Favorites Pub (better known to Loyola students as Craig’s) was shut down in January for a variety of reasons. Still, with 11 liquor licenses in a one-block radius of York and Belvedere, problems do crop up from time to time.
“I made an executive decision that we reach out to our elected officials and say, ‘Wait a minute, we want to make sure there are some controls in place so that the number of establishments with liquor licenses doesn’t get out of control,’” Sykes says. “As a result of that, the business community, Belvedere Square specifically, became upset because they felt like it was going to stymie their growth, and that’s not what it was intended to do. But what it did allow for was, and we negotiated and had a year in the delay of the implementation of the law to allow us to come together to talk, to agree on some things, and to really go back to the table and come up with what everybody felt was a fair provision.”
For Taylor – who grew up in Northwest Baltimore and spent a decade in suburban Chicago before buying her house in Belvedere – occasional frustrations with encroaching businesses and petty crime are surpassed by her love for the community. She’s disappointed when young families leave Belvedere for the suburbs in search of alternative schooling options, and she worries that some people are increasingly priced out of the neighborhood. But the plusses, for her and hundreds more, easily outweigh the minuses.
“I wanted to be able to walk to get a cup of coffee,” Taylor says. “The other part is we’re hugely racially and economically diverse. For me, that was important, to have a good mix of couples and singles and gays and straights. I couldn’t think of a better place to live for that – especially in Baltimore.”