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As Long as We Remember...

April 17, 2012

“Demolition by Neglect”

Roy Meachum

A Frederick News-Post front-page story last Wednesday reminded me of the phrase; it came from an earlier, longer article. Reporter Blair Ames wrote about the terrible state of downtown, where English pointer Pushkin and I live – in an almost 300-year-old house.


While South Market Street suffered 19th century neglect when horses and carriages provided transportation, this end prospered. North of Carroll Creek everybody wanted to live and have businesses. Our residence started out built of logs, in the mid-1740s – well within the limits incorporated a few years later. I moved to Frederick from Bethesda in 1983; Pushki joined me 14 Octobers later. He was a 12-weeks roly-poly, black-and-white butter ball. The mortgage on my present home was taken in 1998.


The supermarket still operated directly across North Market. When it went bust, then-Mayor Jim Grimes snatched up the prime spot – for the city. He tried later to bring a “big-box store,” which soon petered out. Carmack-Jay’s brought life to the block, cars and people coming and going. There was so much traffic that patrons of the neighborhood pub, Olde Towne Tavern, could be ignored; but it was before no-smoking laws forced them to the sidewalk, between beers.


The “Old Guard” changed.


The new mayor was Jennifer Daugherty, the first woman to run City Hall. Quickly she earned a reputation as strong-willed, not hesitant to employ her official powers to avenge any mistakes in herself and by other people. Troops of officials came and departed Court Street. Perhaps in consultation with other feminists, she pursued a feud against Mr. Grimes.


In that spirit, Ms. Dougherty put the properties he bought on the real estate market at lower prices, especially erstwhile Carmack-Jays. The only reason I could figure out was to lose money, showing how the rags-to-riches former mayor was a bad businessman. The bidders were from a restricted list.


Jonathon Staples told me he wanted to buy the site – after it was formally announced that Jennifer Dougherty sold it to Douglas Jamal, who counted hundreds of buildings and parcels among his possessions. When turned down, Jonathon and partners leased the first floor of downtown’s “brick castle” and opened Volt’s, named for partner-chef Bryan Voltaggio. After a single term, Ms. Dougherty was turned out; she has since lost several elections.


Mr. Jamal designed and built a brave new structure, including eight light globes fronting on North Market Street. He tried to market former Carmack-Jay’s but obviously gave up; it could amount to a deductible tax loss for him.


Today City Hall has leased back the front lots for parking spaces; five of the globes are shattered. When Pushkin takes me through our yellow door, I see Jonathon’s one-time dream. We pass by Volt’s in the next block; the partners have opened three other eating establishments. In June, they’ll go into business on East Street with a diner.


The News-Post used “demolition by neglect” in Reporter Ames’ story about our side of the block some months ago. The original article spawned some hope. Alderwoman Karen Young checked with Annapolis for pertinent regulations.


Wednesday’s headline “Enforcers look to the law to curb property problems” was followed by writer Patti S. Borda’s observations and interviews. Code enforcement manager Dan Hoffman said of his department: “We do have the tools we need. We just need to start using them in creative ways.”


In the meantime, That Cuban Place closed on the northeast Third Street corner. Alfredo moved his business to East Church Street, taking his energetic spirit away. The chances of getting him back on the block are out-of-sight.


Nothing’s happened in Pushkin’s and my neighborhood since the original story appeared.




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