BALTIMORE, Md. — In Sandtown, Douglas Wheeler looks out with satisfaction over the abandoned city-block-turned-farm where he works growing all sorts of greens and lettuce — “but never iceberg” — and remembers how it used to be.
“This lot was a garden of trash,” he says. “With rats all over the place.”
Before they were demolished in 2005, the block had 27 row houses, most of them long boarded up and abandoned, transformed from icons of Baltimore pride to casualties of the blight brought on the city by deindustrialization, unemployment, addiction and the war on drugs.
Until the 1960s, Sandtown was part of the vibrant 72 square blocks that made up a family-based, African-American community where laborers, professionals and artists all lived together across socioeconomic lines. The quarter took its name from the horse-drawn wagons that would trail sand through its streets after filling up at the local sand and gravel quarry. Thurgood Marshall graduated from Sandtown’s Frederick Douglass High School, locals Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday sang in the legendary jazz clubs on Pennsylvania Avenue, and any kid could get some wood, build a box and make a few bucks on that main drag shining shoes.