Greektown: Exploring Baltimore’s neighborhoods
At its peak, Greektown was home to about 1,000 families. Now it’s around 600. People come and people go, mostly to the county. But the pull of this Southeast Baltimore neighborhood – particularly for Greek-Americans – remains strong.
“They come down to the restaurants, they come down to the little shops,” said Theo Harris, a Greektown resident and prominent local realtor. “Their weddings, their funerals, their baptisms, it’s all happening in the community. That’s really the bond.”
» Border streets: Lombard, O’Donnel, S. Haven, I-895
» Neighboring areas: Kresson, Highlandtown, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Hopkins Bayvew
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The old-world charms are all around: restaurants (Akropolis, Ikaros, Samos and Zorba’s) and shops (Kentrikon, Athenaikon Music Center) along Eastern Avenue and side streets; the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, an anchor institution in the community for more than six decades; and the annual Greek Folk Festival, a four-day celebration of food, culture and music on Ponca Street.
What really excites Harris, though, is the potential for growth in Greektown. What has already occurred in Canton, Brewers Hill and parts of Highlandtown could be coming to this neighborhood soon.
“A whole lot of investors are coming into Greektown,” said Harris, who, in addition to his full-time job with Keller Williams Realty Baltimore, serves as a consultant for the Greektown Community Development Corporation. “The PEMCO plant right across from [Johns] Hopkins [Bayview Hospital], access to major highways, I-95, [all] just walking distances from here. We’re really excited about what’s going on with Greektown the past couple years. We just see progressively increasing values.”
Harris was born in Greece and came to the U.S. when he was 18. His aunt and uncle worked in advertising in Detroit, and eventually obtained exclusive franchise rights to Little Caesers Pizza in Baltimore. Harris came over and joined the family business before branching out into real estate.
He remembers selling homes for $14,000 in the neighborhood, but more recently recalls houses in the $400,000 range. There are still “traditional Greek, porchfront homes, combination of brick and stone” sold as shells for $80,000-$100,000 in the neighborhood. And there’s new construction closer to Boston Street, most notably the Athena Square and O’Donnell Square developments.
“The pieces are just falling right into place, which is really exciting,” Harris said. “It was kind of rough in the 80s … but we seem like we’re rising. We’re seeing a lot of investors, and then we see school teachers and firemen and policemen and regular folks that work 9-to-5 coming in and buying a home because it’s affordable. You can buy a renovated home in Greektown for $150,000.”
Affordability, safety and walkability are the traits Harris touts when extolling Greektown’s virtues. There’s room for more commercial growth, particularly between the Canton Car Wash and Canton Crossing off Boston Street. The proposed Baltimore Red Line would run through Greektown and be another game-changer for the neighborhood.
With more public transportation, Harris sees the potential for Baltimore to rival bigger East Coast cities, and Greektown to continue its growth.
“Personally what I’m really excited about is the young professionals coming in,” he said. “Because they’re bringing the culture about less is more, we demand more efficiency, we demand things to go further for less. … [I’d like to see a neighborhood] where people can literally actually walk. They can live in the same place and work, and play, and don’t have to hop in their car and pollute and burn gas and expenses. … I think change is cool.”
This is part of an ongoing series from The Baltimore Sun about the history, culture, and future of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Have a suggestion for what neighborhood to explore next? Let us know.