South Central Avenue

National Register of Historic Places: 11/11/01


The South Central Avenue Historic District encompasses an approximately eight-block area situated along South Central Avenue between Fleet and Pratt Streets at the eastern end of the Little Italy neighborhood and immediately west of the Fells Point Historic District. Its central location within Baltimore City and its proximity to the City Dock at the south end of South Central Avenue, railroad and streetcar lines, and arterials leading to Philadelphia fueled its continued use as a light industrial precinct. 
Comprised of brick two and three story industrial and residential buildings, the historic district's variegated streetscapes reflect over 150 years of utilitarian adaptation of buildings and space.

As a center of ancillary industry, the district is characterized by relatively small-scale, vernacular industrial buildings that display additive massing and traces of incremental change. Land use patterns that characterized 19th and early 20th century American cities prior to the induction of zoning laws survive here. Early 19th century row houses, late 19th century and early 20th century manufacturing and warehouse buildings, gas stations, stables, car barns, commercial/ residential buildings, and corner stores are all interspersed within this dense historic district. Several larger buildings like the Bagby Furniture Building (4 stories), the Strauss Malt House (5 stories), and the Alamdea School contrast with the smaller industrial concerns whose compound, low-scale massing often follows historic lot lines. While the district is urban in character with buildings constructed up to the property line, there are vacant lots serving storage and loading functions.


The South Central Avenue Historic District exemplifies the texture and scale of industrial development that sustained Baltimore's growth during the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Comprised of industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential buildings, the district records the evolution of ancillary industries against the backdrop of the urban infrastructure that made their existence possible. The South Central Avenue Historic District meets National Register Criterion A because it illustrates the evolution of ancillary industries supporting Baltimore's diversified manufacturing economy.

In a fashion often characteristic of 19th century urban land use, industrial development congregated in less desirable areas along the margins of thriving urban settlements. Central Avenue, formerly Harford Run, served as the spine running through an area situated between Fells Point and Jones Town. Fueled by access to transportation and the labor of successive waves of immigrants, this ethnically and racially diverse working class area was a locus of ancillary industrial production servicing Baltimore's textile, brewing, canning, and construction industries. Marked by transitions in ethnic and racial groups, businesses, and the neighborhood's place vis-à-vis the city at large, the South Central Avenue Historic District survives to exemplify the commonplace, small-scale industry co-existing with residential settlement that supported Baltimore's growth during the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.