On February 19, 2014, a natural gas explosion caused part of 447 N Lakewood Avenue to collapse, with three people taken to the hospital for their injuries. Also, a child died as part of the home fell on him as he was walking by on the sidewalk. The child, Troy Douglas, was walking home from school, and should have been at a birthday party later that day.
Residents in the home reported the smell of natural gas, and an inspector was dispatched — an inspector who allegedly found no fault with the gas connection or the furnace, despite the photo above, which clearly shows a flex tube that isn’t properly connected. Was this the cause of the explosion?
At the time of the explosion, the property was owned by Marywood Real Estate Investors, who then sold the home for $100 in April, two months after the explosion. The home is currently owned by MBE Properties, LLC, with an address in Kingsville, MD. There are no current permits on file for this property — the last permit was a demo permit to assist fire investigators so they could determine the cause of the explosion.
This is what the home looks like today:
If you’ve ever driven down Monroe Street to Washington Boulevard, you’ve seen this forlorn building next to the bridge:
The brick wall is crumbing, and the building has been in disrepair for years. On first glance, it appears to be just another one of Baltimore’s many vacant properties, left to rot over the decades. However, a little research shows this isn’t just any property — it has historic significance, ties to a famous local family, and deserves to be recognized and celebrated.
The building was built in the late 19th century, as the headquarters and manufacturing center for the Alma Manufacturing Company, the first company in the United States to make steel buttons and fasteners for clothing. The company held several patents for their work, among them No. 963,193 and No. 934,136, for buckles.
On the property were long, low mill and multi-story and high-ceiling manufacturing buildings, situated near the rail tracks.
The Alma Manufacturing company was founded by a German immigrant, Herman Kerngood, in 1887. At the beginning of the 20th century, Herman Kerngood formed a partnership with Moses Hecht, Benjamin F. Hecht, Nathan I. Hecht, S.B. Sonneborn, and Isaac Blum, to establish the American Steel Buckle Company, Inc. with an authorized capital stock of $1000. The Hechts were of the same family that started Hecht Brothers and the Hecht Company chain of department stores in the Baltimore-Washington region, starting with a used furniture store founded by Samuel Hecht, in 1857.
The company was taken over by Herman’s sons after his death, and then sold to another manufacturing company in 1946.
Source: Baltimore Sun, August 2010 “Shopping in Fells Point at Hecht’s Reliable Store” by Jacques Kelly
Sometime around 1983, the complex was purchased by one Mahendra “Mike” Shah, who named the industrial center “Shah Industrial Park”. One of its tenants at that time was the Naron Candy Company.
In 1996, the complex burned to the ground in one of the worst fires in SW Baltimore. It was later determined by the court that Shah had committed numerous counts of insurance fraud, arson, mail and wire fraud violations, and money laundering. He was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison, in 2004. In 2006, Shah sought to overturn his conviction, but the US Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit, denied his appeal.
Currently, the property is owned by a graphic artist and his wife, having purchased the property in 2009. I reached out to them twice to find out what they intend to do with the property — once two weeks ago, and then again this morning. Hopefully they’ll respond. It’s a terrible shame to see such an important property fall into an even greater state of disrepair.
A very curious thing happened this morning and I thought it might be worth sharing, if you hadn’t already seen it on Twitter.
I read a random link posted by the Afro, a local paper that’s been in Baltimore forever, about a fire that wiped out a family’s home in the 2800 block of Boarman Avenue. The fire, according to the article, started in a City-owned vacant. The reporter claimed to get the information from a fire inspector’s report. So far, so good. I tweeted to the Mayor that I felt it was shameful the City wasn’t doing more to help the family — in fact, I thought (and still think) the City should repair the home instead of having the family take out a loan for the repairs (the family, unfortunately, did not have homeowner’s insurance). I also sent an email to Sharon Green-Middleton, the councilwoman for the district, saying basically the same thing — that it’s shameful behavior on the part of Baltimore City.
Not two or three minutes later, I received a voice mail from Deputy Commissioner Reginald Scriber from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City — could I please call him back about this…so I did. For the next 20 minutes or so, Deputy Commissioner Scriber proceeded to tell me the fire did not, in fact, start in the City-owned vacant, that it started in a woodpile behind the homeowner’s house. He then went on to say that if the fire had started in a City-owned property, he would encourage the homeowner to go to the Law Department to see what could be done to remedy the situation. He seemed to be quite puzzled as to why the Afro would report such a thing, considering it wasn’t true — and I have to admit — I wondered the same, but…
A healthy dose of skepticism made me send an email to the BCFD Public Information Office to see if they could clear up this matter once and for all. Seems to me, there’s no grey area here, right? Either the fire started here or the fire started there.
Ian Brennan, Chief Public Information Officer for the city’s fire department quickly responded and sent a copy of the report, which is public record. (Link opens a PDF) The fire, it would seem, did indeed start in the City-owned vacant. A homeless man had moved into the “summer kitchen” of the vacant, and “ignited the surrounding paper products/clothing” nearby.
I then went back to Twitter to express my displeasure with Deputy Commissioner Scriber’s…error, shall we say…and received yet another voice mail from him that basically says oh yes I was wrong about what I said earlier, yeah sorry.
So back to my original ire about the situation, shoving aside my additional ire about being led down a rabbit hole by Deputy Commissioner Scriber — is the City going to make the repairs to this family’s home, or pay for the repairs? Or is the City, as it is wont to do a lot of the time, shrug off any responsibility for their vacant blighted property?
(As an aside, I would like to thank Councilwoman Middleton-Green for her responsiveness, and also Ian Brennan from the BCFD.)
Haven’t done one of these in a while, so there are lots of random interesting links!
Oh, the things people do in and around vacants…don’t let your kids read this one.
The Chicago City Council approved a measure that offers renters protection if their apartment building goes into foreclosure.
While many residents are pleased with the project at Uplands, in Baltimore, not all are happy with the restrictions.
So far this year, Baltimore has seen 10 fire fatalities, more than in all of 2012. The man who died in this fire in South Baltimore was one of them.
Lots of arson in Detroit, including this vacant fire. I guess the arsonist wanted to make sure it REALLY REALLY burned.
I remember Gary, Indiana being a mess when I was a kid — apparently decades later, it still is. For many of the same reasons that plague Baltimore.
The battle continues over the proposed Royal Farms in Hamilton, according to this article from Baltimore Brew.
A Baltimore Sun letter to the editor regarding the city’s $107 million tax giveaway — very well done, Jeff Singer from Baltimore.
It’s nice to see property owners and developers in other cities can come up with ways to creatively use vacant properties. Turning them into homes that aren’t over-improved, and renting them for a reasonable, appropriate rent, is a sure way to build stronger neighborhoods. Kudos to this Cleveland developer!
Richmond’s 9th City Council District is apparently a blighted eyesore, thanks to city-owned blighted property and vacant lots. Hmmm…
Some Chicago kids may have to walk past even more blighted vacants on their way to school, and it’s not making the parents happy. Can’t say I blame them!
Milwaukee Fox 6 reports that police are seeing an uptick in scrappers stealing siding from homes, particularly in areas with a lot of vacants.
Shelterforce has been on a recent roll lately with the good blog posts. This one taught me a new word: “Metropollyanna”. Don’t be one of those people.
Also from Shelterforce — do artists have a place in the public planning process?
Nice to see this vacant building in Station North will finally get a facelift after so many years of neglect.
Home ownership rates fell to an 18-year low, according to a report issued by the US Census Bureau on Thursday.
Banks are retreating from low-income neighborhoods, especially those hit hard by predatory lending.
Should landlords be allowed to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders? (Or conversely, should landlords be able to run “Section 8 Only” ads, thereby discriminating against those who work?)
To buy, or not to buy…the renter’s dilemma.
A two-alarm fire wiped out two homes in Baltimore — there have been lots of fires on the west side recently, hopefully BCFD Chief Clack is paying attention and realizes his plan to move a company to the east side would be unwise.
The Community Law Center is suing Scott Wizig, a large-scale slumlord who owns many of our city’s blighted homes. Nice to see other people are finally getting on board with running some of these folks out of town.
Should we continue to pour our tax dollars into the Inner Harbor and Harbor East? This letter-writer to the Sun says no.
Five years after a Philly woman lost her home to deed thieves, she finally gets the house back.
Can a neighborhood overcome its past? One neighborhood in Chicago has, despite its chilling origins.
BCFD was called to a two-alarm fire in the 1100 block of Ward Street in Pigtown this morning, at approximately 0600, where they found three vacant homes on fire. The fourth home was occupied, and was severely damaged.
The fourth home was rehabbed by Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, and is at present uninhabitable. However, there is a silver lining — a few feet away, facing Ostend Street, is another Habitat home, which is empty and ready for the homeowner to move into! I spoke to a Habitat employee who was in a hurry to install blinds into the home so the woman would be able to have some privacy.
It’s not often I get to write about happy endings to sad stories — glad this one turned out well, if a bit scary, for the homeowner.
The fire is believed to have started in one of the vacant homes.
I would like to mention, one of the fire trucks that arrived on the scene is one of the trucks that could potentially be removed from service on the West side, if BCFD Chief Clack has his way. Just think what could have happened if that truck was not available to this community — there may not have been a happy ending to this story, and the responsibility would have fallen on Chief Clack.
If you live in Baltimore City, you won’t want to miss this important meeting regarding the second round of proposed irresponsible cuts to the fire department. Your home and family could be at risk!
Yet another mortgage fraudster who operated in a low-income part of Philly has been caught and charged with fraud. Slumlords and scam artists think if they prey on people in low-income areas they won’t get caught — WRONG!
Speaking of mortgage fraud — a Baltimore man won’t be tasting freedom for a while after scamming several lenders out of over $1 million for his “shabby” houses.
A Clinton, Maryland woman has been found guilty of mortgage fraud. Despite receiving income from the District of Columbia Housing Authority (Section 8 rent payments), she allowed the mortgages on all of her properties to go into default and pocketed the money.
Congrats to Poppleton residents for rallying around a neighborhood park, saving it from a stalled City development plan!
Henrico (Richmond, VA area) neighbors were up in arms over two vacant properties managed by an out of state firm — Channel 8 news investigated and got results.
Hamilton residents — you’re getting a new Royal Farms whether you want it or not. [I have to say, I agree with “HS” who left the comment “That’s the problem with one party politics–they don’t even have to pretend that they work for you.”]
Money-laundering charges were suddenly dropped against the owner of multiple blighted properties in Baltimore, Stewart Sachs.