The renovated, attractive building now known as Linden Park Apartments at 301 McMechen Street (between Jordan Street and Eutaw Place) is a contemporary reminder, if anyone needs one, of a time when pragmatic politicians of different parties worked together to do things that had a lasting, positive impact.
It was 1965. Lyndon Johnson was president, and a Democratic Congress was enacting his Great Society programs, including the creation of HUD, a housing agency led by the first Black cabinet member ever, Robert C. Weaver. Baltimore Mayor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, a Republican, abandoned his party’s candidate in 1964 to endorse Johnson. So when Congress authorized Section 202 multifamily housing to benefit the elderly, Baltimore was well positioned to benefit, and it did.
What was then known as Memorial Apartments was one of several early Section 202 projects in the city, sponsored, as the law required, by a community organization — in this instance created by Memorial Episcopal Church. The church was given 3.6 acres, a part of the Madison Park South Urban Renewal Plan. Opened in 1967, the development has continually provided comfortable market-rate and subsidized apartments for residents 62 and over.
Urban planner Connie Lieder and her architect-husband were new to Bolton Hill in those days, having purchased and begun restoring a Park Avenue rowhouse. She was active in planning for the senior housing project and served on its first board. Although she recently moved to Roland Park Place, she recalls fondly those early days a half-century ago of renovation and commitment in Bolton Hill, which had become down-at-the-heels after World War II.
Bolton Hill resident Doug Kelso, also an architect, has served for 38 years on the board of Memorial Apartments Corporation (MAC), which oversee the apartments. “The church’s role was very loose,” he said. “Typically, the rector has served on the board, but it operates as a self-sufficient non-profit. Today MAC is less involved on a day-to-day basis, although we support a fulltime resident services manager, Ruth Royster, who coordinates activities for the residents.” Memorial’s current rector, the Rev. Grey Maggiano, is on the board.
A $26 million renovation of the three wings and the first-floor community spaces, completed in 2016, was preceded by a complex set of negotiations involving MAC and Somerset Development Company. Habitat for America provides management services. Each of the 266 units at Linden Park has been renovated and has on-floor laundry access. Building amenities include a new catering kitchen, game room, computer lab, fitness room, wellness center, hair salon and a solarium overlooking the gardens. Somerset and MAC also partnered to subdivide the lot and build a separate 62-unit development of market-rate apartments, The Jordan, at the corner of McMechen and Eutaw Place.
A robust set of services are provided for the residents and overseen by the resident services manager. These services have been helpful to residents in trying to navigate the perils of COVID, to prevent a sense of isolation while keeping everyone safe. According to Colleen Palmer, the property manager since 2006, COVID has complicated life for the men and women who live there. “They are rightly afraid of the virus, but there also is a danger to shutting themselves in their homes too much. We try to lure them down for socially-distanced activities – using the fitness center one-at-a-time, bingo and cards, and other things.
“Several organizations like Meals on Wheels, Muslim Social Services, veterans’ groups and especially The Tilted Row Restaurant next door have been very supportive.” Even while The Tilted Row, located on the ground floor of The Jordan, was closed for a period, they provided freshly cooked meals and Christmas dinner to the residents of Linden Park.
Moving in and out of the units has been hampered by the pandemic, but occupancy remains above 90 percent, with a waiting list for one-bedroom units. A few studios are available. Ms. Palmer and Ms. Royster are working to arrange on-site COVID immunizations soon for those who want them.
As they emerge from the pandemic restrictions, Ms. Royster will offer volunteer opportunities. Tax-deductible contributions can be made to Memorial Apartment Corporation to support the special services for the residents. Checks can be sent to MAC, 301 McMechen Street, Baltimore 21217.