Baltimost: Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street

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Arch Social Club, facade. Photo by Preservation Maryland.

Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street

There's a shared wistfulness among those who remember The Avenue: the days of the Chitlin' Circuit, of grand theaters like the Royal hosting jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Baltimore's own Billie Holliday, of packed movie houses and thriving dance clubs, record stores and hotels.

"It is like walking on hallowed ground," the late jazz vocalist Ruby Glover told The Sun in a 2002 story tracing a walking tour of Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Those days are long gone, the scene having crumbled after the riots of 1968 following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. But hope springs anew in 2019. The Arch Social Club has gotten a facelift, and attractions like The Avenue Bakery and the Shake and Bake roller rink and bowling alley are steadfastly anchored. And in a major step this year, the state designated Pennsylvania Avenue as Baltimore's fourth entertainment and arts district--the first in Maryland specifically honoring a black community's artistic roots. 

Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street joins Bromo Seltzer, Highlandtown and Station North in holding the designation. The state program offers tax credits for historic renovations and new construction, and other incentives to businesses. 

A coalition of community organizers, led by Brion Gill, a.k.a. spoken-word artist and poet Lady Brion, made this happen. Gill, now serving as the arts district's executive director, is helping to jump-start the resurgence. She said in July the effort will include marketing The Avenue to creative people already living there, helping current residents become homeowners and beautifying its blocks.

She also plans to have new programming to showcase Pennsylvania Avenue's artists, "creating a platform" for them to anchor a new tourism draw. "For these first foundational years, it's really about marketing, about promotion and telling a really good story."

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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