Unity Hall project seeks to bridge neighborhhoods

·3 min read

A Eutaw Place structure has been given a bold challenge: Break down the Black/white barriers that have traditionally separated Bolton Hill from West Baltimore.

“Eutaw Place was a bright line of segregation,” said Nancy Hooff, an owner of Somerset Development, the firm that is undertaking this $9.7 million effort. “And that segregation still manifests itself.”

The newly named Unity Hall opened in 1964 as a union hall for Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers. Later the Empowerment Temple ran community programs out of the building. More recently the structure suffered due to deferred maintenance.

Located at 1205 Eutaw Place, Unity Hall stands out as a relic of the urban renewal mania that clobbered this neighborhood. The mid-century modern structure replaced the venerable Phoenix Club, an organization that flourished when Baltimore’s Jews were not allowed to become members of downtown men’s clubs.

In the 1960s, blocks of once stately rowhouses along Linden Avenue were demolished in the name of slum clearance. The result was a large vacant tract in Bolton Hill, a void filled partially by Memorial Apartments. Many Eutaw Place residents also were displaced in the tear-it-down fever.

The hall is part of a contiguous campus of structures that Somerset Development has adopted. These include the former Memorial Apartments, the senior citizen residence now known as Linden Green.

Hooff, who co-owns Somerset Development with her life and business partner, Jim Campbell, said she wanted to do the right thing when she initially came to Baltimore and found the old Memorial Apartments in need of help.

“The building was in bad shape and had been poorly maintained,” she said.

Once a thorough reconditioning of the senior apartments was completed several years ago, she and her staff looked at the larger picture. They found the grounds of the apartment house could accommodate another building.

There was enough room for the Jordan Apartments, a McMechen Street market rate residence that includes the Tilted Row restaurant.

“The restaurant helps bring people together,” Hooff said. “It’s very diverse.”

The restaurant’s chef and operator, Ziad Maalouf, also heads another place, the Cafe Fili in Mount Vernon’s Professional Arts Building, formerly the Medical Arts Building. Somerset owns the Professional Arts as well as other Baltimore investments.

The old union hall, now renamed Unity Hall, has a mission statement. It says it is “intended to break down barriers that have traditionally divided the community and to build a healthy, safe neighborhood for all, by providing resources and a venue for creativity.”

It will offer “below-market rents” to nonprofit and community-based organizations for office and program spaces for meetings, events, training sessions or community gatherings.

Ziger/Snead Architects have created an auditorium, meeting rooms and other other amenities. The first floor is intended to be used for workforce development.

“What Unity Hall means to the entire community is an opportunity to break away from old neighborhood labels — Marble Hill, Madison Park, Upton, Druid Heights and Bolton Hill,” said Grey Maggiano, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church, the institution that originally sponsored construction of the senior citizen apartment building. “It represents a chance to understand ourselves as a community.”

He spoke of the building’s new purpose. “The physical space is a common ground and a great way to mesh these communities together.”

A Unity Hall Advisory Committee was established in 2019 to advise an entity called MAC (Memorial Apartments Corp.), the nonprofit owner of the building.

In addition to Hooff and Maggiano, the Unity Hall advisory committee includes Ashiah Parker, president of Memorial Apartments Corp. and CEO of No Boundaries Coalition, Ateira Griffin of Building Our Nation’s Daughters, Washina Ford of the Community Builders, Emily Cory of Single Carrot Theatre, Stephanie Ray of Baltimore Music Box, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent community engagement specialist.

A groundbreaking is slated for 11 a.m. Sept. 21 at 1505 Eutaw Place.

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