Fred B. Shoken
North Central Historic District
Baltimore, Baltimore City
The North Central Historic District is an area of approximately 25 city blocks directly north of downtown Baltimore. The roughly triangular-shaped, mixed-use district comprises late-19th century row housing, commercial storefronts from the turn of the 20th century through the 1950s, large industrial buildings, several older theatres, a church, and two school buildings. The district includes 630 buildings. Most are 2-4 story high rowhouses, yet the area features an eight-story former apartment house, several multi-story industrial/warehouse structures, and even a few one-story late-20th century automobile oriented commercial buildings. Stylistically, housing ranges from traditional Baltimore rowhouses with flat brick facades and restrained decorative treatments to more highly embellished eclectic designs built with a variety of materials. Commercial and industrial structures run the gamut of Queen Anne, Romanesque, Neo-Classical, Spanish Revival, Commercial Style, and Modern designs. Residential buildings define the western portion of the area, while industrial buildings are located along the southern and western edges. Commercial structures predominate along Charles Street and North Avenue, two major business streets that intersect the district. The area is urban in character. Some streets are tree-lined, but landscaped parks are rare. Parking lots and vacant land where housing has been demolished create gaps within the district. Although vacant lots and deteriorated houses (especially in the eastern half of the district) and some non-historic intrusions (along the more commercial portions of the area) detract from the historic character of the neighborhood, the majority of streetscapes are intact, retaining a high degree of integrity.
The North Central Historic District is significant for its architecture. The area embodies the distinctive characteristics of a late-19th to mid-20th century mixed-use, urban neighborhood comprising a variety of row housing and commercial and industrial buildings. While there are many individually distinctive buildings within the district, the majority of buildings represent the evolution of rowhouses from the traditional to more eclectic types. A broad variety of sizes and types reflects the diversity of the neighborhood's residents, ranging from the large and architecturally elaborate dwellings of the upper class to the small alley houses of working-class African Americans. Although the majority of structures are residential, there are many small-scale commercial buildings and multi-story industries. The North Central Historic District is historically significant for its association with the economic development of Baltimore during the period. At the turn of the 20th century, the neighborhood was multi-functional; housing, businesses, and factories in close proximity created a dynamic character often missing in later urban and suburban developments. The North Central area featured a theatre district and an important retail center including a privately owned market house comparable to municipal markets downtown and in other city neighborhoods. Significant industrial buildings rivaled downtown lofts. Noteworthy industries included Crown Cork & Seal and Noxema, nationally known companies that provided employment for many area residents. The neighborhood remained an important center of residence, business, and industry until after World War II, after which many people moved to the suburbs an businesses closed. Located within a corridor of historic neighborhoods in central Baltimore (Mount Vernon, Old Goucher, Charles Village, Guilford, Homeland, and Roland Park), the North Central district completes a nearly unbroken chain of historic neighborhoods reflecting the migration of Baltimore residents from downtown to the northern suburbs.