The first in an occasional series on Bolton Hill parks. More information on parks is available at https://boltonhillmd.org/parks-and-gardens/
“As a park, it’s an impertinence. Who ever heard of a park seven row houses wide, enclosed rather sketchily by low brick walls?” That is how Sara Azrael in 1958, writing for the Roland Park Company’s Gardens, Houses and People magazine, characterized the little Bolton Hill garden now known as John Street Park.
When John Street Park was dedicated on Sept. 10, 1955, articles appeared highlighting the actions of ordinary citizens working with government to create new green space in urban communities. A group of Bolton Hill residents had worked to bring about one of the first “vest pocket” city parks in the country.
But according to Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins, neighborhood organizing that led to the park began as an effort to fend off zealous “slum clearance” projects that threatened post-war Bolton Hill. Among them was a plan to convert John Street into an entrance ramp for Interstate 83, then being planned. Baltimore Heritage has a video about the park’s creation.
Residents organized first as “Home Owners Against Housing Authoritarianism” or HOHA, said Hopkins, who lives near the park. Thereafter, residents of the 1300 block of John Street through the formation of the “Residential Protective Association” in 1952, were able over three years to convince the city to block off traffic and create John Street Park where asphalt had been.
The city came up with $10,258 after getting an agreement from the 13 families to maintain the park and to allow fire trucks and emergency vehicles to pass through when necessary. By blocking the street, the park became, as Azrael wrote, “a thorn in the hide of taxi drivers who come to an impasse at the park, a blessing to mothers with children to air, a haven for the unleashed hound, an in-town sylvan picnic ground for sketchers, a nuisance to fire trucks and oil dispensers and a boon to the Good Humor man.”
The neighbors did their part in the 1960s, but in the seventies and afterward, maintenance was uneven at best. Park cleaning and planting were restored in 1989 with the formation of the John Street Park Association. As part of the park’s 50th anniversary in 2005, it was enhanced with a three-tiered Victorian fountain surrounded by a garden, low-ground lighting and four Victorian-style benches.
Officers of the association today are Christina Lambert Pentino, Marie Wawer, Mark Pentino and Monica Lavorgna. Others from the 1300 block of John and beyond use and take care of the park.
–Lee Tawney and Bill Hamilton