The Compass - eNews from Baltimore Planning

Historic Photo of Olmsted at Work with Compass Logo overlaid on top

A monthly eNewsletter from the Baltimore City Department of Planning

February, 2015

A Message from the Director…

Over a hundred years ago, the city embarked on the monumental task of creating a comprehensive park system, which achieved many goals, such as protecting waterways, promoting exercise, providing access to green space, and spurring residential development.

The City of Baltimore has been shaped tremendously by the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects, who designed the City’s park plan, many of Baltimore’s suburban-style neighborhoods, and even helped establish the Department of Planning. Their legacy is still evident across the city.

Today, Baltimore is working on new comprehensive greening and sustainability efforts, experiencing new residential development, and our population is growing for the first time in decades.

While the circumstances are very different today, we share many of the same goals the Olmsted's helped implement in the past, and we continue to benefit from the thoughtful planning and infrastructure that we inherited.

With the designation of the Olmsted Parkways, Baltimore will join other great American cities, such as Boston, in honoring the significance of their Olmsted-designed park systems and ensuring that they will continue to contribute to the vitality of the city for generations to come.  

As the first landmark designation to recognize the historic significance of a public roadway in Baltimore City, this is a unique action. It is also a reminder that our city’s significant historic resources aren’t simply buildings and monuments, but also include landscapes and civic infrastructure.

The landmark designation of the Olmsted Parkways is a collaboration between Planning, City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Nick Mosby, and our partners at the Departments of Transportation, Public Works, and Recreation & Parks, not to mention the input and support from numerous municipal groups and community organizations.

I hope you will join us in supporting, and celebrating our historic landscapes and the history they helped shape across the City.


Thomas J. Stosur, Director

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Planning in the News: 

Black History Month features Historic Preservation and artifacts uncovered at Carroll Park

Click on the image below to see ABC 2 News coverage of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's Black History Month event unveiling several artifacts made or used by enslaved African Americans at Mount Clare plantation, what is today Carroll Park. These artifacts were uncovered during 20 years of archaeological excavations, and this was the first time that they have been publicly displayed in decades.

Screen shot of ABC2 News Coverage

H.L. Mencken House Restoration

H.L. Mencken, known as the "Sage of Baltimore", is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and cultural critics of the first half of the twentieth century. He is also one on Charm City’s most notable and colorful characters.  

As owner of the H.L. Mencken house, the City of Baltimore has a special responsibility to ensure that Mencken’s life and legacy is celebrated and kept alive for future generations.

Photo of H.L. Mencken House

Through a generous private bequest to the City, nearly $3 million is available to support the restoration, refurnishing, exhibition, interpretation and reopening of the Mencken’s former home, located on West Baltimore’s Union Square at 1524 Hollins Street. 

This is an exciting opportunity to build on the years of volunteer stewardship of the house provided by groups like the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House, the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy and the H.L. Mencken Society, and create a dedicated, professional non-profit entity to partner with the City on restoration and on-going programming for this historic asset.

To assist the City with this effort, the Planning Department has hired the B&O Railroad Museum as a consultant.  B&O is a respected member of the museum community, with expertise in board development, preservation, fundraising, collections, financial management and operations.  Stay tuned for updates on this exciting initiative to breathe new life into Mencken’s remarkable legacy.


Olmsted Parkways: A Green Ribbon Connecting the City

Baltimore has been shaped immensely by the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons, who left their signatures across Baltimore’s landscape, particularly in the city’s parks and suburban style neighborhoods. A part of that landscape legacy is being considered for designation as a Baltimore City Landmark by the City Council (CCB 14-0453).  The designation will include the Gwynns Falls Parkway, 33rd Street, and a portion of the Alameda, which are collectively being named the “Olmsted Parkways” and which connect the majority of the larger parks in the City’s park system. 

Image of Gwynns Falls Parkway

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his firm Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects, produced the 1904 "Report Upon the Development of Public Grounds for Greater Baltimore", which laid out a plan for a comprehensive park system for the Baltimore region, comparable to that of Boston. This plan was largely completed, and is why we have the large parks system that exists today.

Drawing of Design for Median for 33rd Street near Union Memorial Hospital

One important facet of that parks system is the parkways that create an east/west connection between Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park to the west, Druid Hill Park, Wyman Park, Lake Montebello and Clifton Park to the east. The intention of the Parks plan was to create an “Emerald Necklace”, with the parks serving as the jewels, and the parkways serving as linear connecting parks.

These parkways were not simply roadways, but served as parks themselves, with wide medians planted with trees and shrubbery. They ensured that citizens had access to green space – which was a rare commodity in many cities 100 years ago. These linear greenways were also seen as an excellent way to spur residential development along the parkways, which helped the housing and population boom in the early 20th century. The parkways also were originally intended to be a “complete streets” model, serving pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and carriages alike. This view of green space as a valuable commodity for attracting residents, spurring growth, and fostering multi-modal transportation is one that is appreciated again today.

Image of Waverly section of the Olmsted Parkway

The designation of the “Olmsted Parkways” honors their historic significance, will ensure that these boulevards will continue to be enjoyed by future generations, and provides an opportunity for the City to celebrate this 100-year legacy.

The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and the Planning Department have worked collaboratively with various city agencies, such as DOT, DPW, and Rec & Parks, regarding this designation to ensure that all of the agencies that are responsible for these parkways are comfortable with the design review goals and procedures that come with Landmark designation. CHAP already reviews and comments on plans for roadways and historic properties owned by the City, and this designation will simply codify the significance of these leafy corridors connecting our neighborhoods and parks, ensuring the City’s stewardship far into the future.  

Clip of Old Map Showing part of the Olmsted Park System in Baltimore

Celebrating Edgar Allan Poe:

An Update from Poe Baltimore

We think Edgar Allan Poe would be humbled and delighted to see his former home at 203 N. Amity Street has been busy since it was reopened by Poe Baltimore, Inc.

Photo of Poe House Museum on Opening day

Ardent visitors from around the world have made pilgrimages to Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum, and after tap, tap, tapping at his front door, have experienced many “POE-tic” treats. In 2014, the house opened briefly for his January 19 birthday, and then again every weekend between 11am and 4pm from Memorial Day to the end of December. During that time, more than 5,900 enthusiastic visitors of all ages crossed the weathered Amity Street threshold to explore Poe’s life, warmly welcomed by a dedicated group of volunteer docents.

Tourists at Poe House Museum

Many other special Poe events dazzled visitors throughout the city, including author of best-selling thrillers, Steve Berry’s grand opening presentation, and later during Artscape, the Book Festival, and FreeFall Baltimore, when four FreeFall “Nomadic POE-try Events” were staged at various Poe-sites.  These notable performances included Tony Tsendeas’s mesmerizing performance of “The Black Cat” at Poe’s Westminster grave, and beatboxer Shodekeh’s compelling event at the Moses Ezekiel Statue.

During the fall, visitors celebrated the Day of the Dead, took a Poe-themed Ghost Tour in Fells Point, enjoyed Baltimore illustrator David Plunkert’s book signing at the B&O Railroad Museum, and swinging Poe enthusiasts were ready to dance during Poe Baltimore’s 2nd“Black Cat Ball” fundraiser at the Mobtown Ballroom.

A new partnership with the Maryland Institute of Art and the Excel Academy offers an exciting examination of ways to interpret Poe. Then more recently, Mike Rowe spent an afternoon filming at the Poe House for his upcoming 9pm Wednesday night CNN series, “SomeBody’s Gotta Do It”.

We’ll keep you posted about this broadcast and many more exciting Poe events that will be happening over the next year.


Capital Improvement Program Update:

On Thursday, February 26 at 9am, Planning Department staff will brief the Planning Commission on its recommendations for the FY16-21 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The Planning Commission will then vote on those recommendations on March 12 at 1:30pm.  Both meetings will take place at 417 East Fayette Street, on the 8th Floor. 

Following approval by the Planning Commission, the CIP must be approved by the Board of Finance and Board of Estimates.   The first year of the six year program is the upcoming budget year and becomes the basis for the capital component of the Ordinance of Estimates, adopted by City Council, which takes effect on July 1, the beginning of the City's fiscal year.

For additional information about the CIP, please e-mail us at or visit our website.


Call for Historic Preservation Award Nominations

What historic places have been restored in your neighborhood? Are you a home-owner celebrating the end of a jaw-dropping rehabilitation project? Or the architect behind an inspired example of adaptive reuse? Baltimore Heritage is looking for Baltimore’s best preservation projects for their 2015 Historic Preservation Awards.  Nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 6, 2015 for consideration.

Awards will be presented at the Baltimore Heritage annual awards celebration in June.