Proposed: Five and Dime CHAP District

Streetscape within proposed Five and Dime Historic District

At the August 8th CHAP hearing the Commission voted to designate the Five and Dime Local Historic District. This was the second public hearing on the proposed designation. The designation now moves to the Planning Commission and then City Council. For more information on the designation process visit the Designation FAQ page.

Summary of Historic Significance

The proposed Five & Dime local historic district is home to a wide variety of commercial structures in the heart of Baltimore’s historic retail district. The proposed district is part of the larger Market Center National Register Historic District, which is home to large department stores, banking centers, theaters and restaurants. The rise of Lexington Market as one of the premiere city markets in the middle of the 19th century spurred the commercial growth in the adjacent blocks. This commercial district developed in the early 19th century and by the end of the 19th century it was home to many of Baltimore’s large department stores. Much of the building stock within the proposed Five & Dime local historic district transitioned from retail-residential-warehouse uses to commercial in the late 19th century.

In the early 20th century as shopping tastes changed, the 200 block of West Lexington Street became home to a variety of “five and dime” stores, like McCrory’s, Schulte-United, Woolworth’s and Brager-Gutmans. Remodeled or new purpose-built, two- to four-story commercial buildings were erected on this block, with wider street frontages and modern storefronts. Many of the structures were designed by prominent Baltimore architects and architecture firms, including Charles E. Cassell, Henry F. Brauns, Smith and May, Joseph Evans Sperry, John Freund Jr., Josias Pennington, Louis Levi, Thomas W. Lamb, and Simonson and Peitsch.

Image of building within Five and Dime Historic DistrictImage of building within Five and Dime Historic District

The 1930s were an architecturally transformative time for the district, as older storefronts were given modern streamlined facades and new five & dime establishments were built in the Art Deco and Moderne styles. The iconic rounded façade of Kresge’s and the decorative color tile work on the McCrory’s building are just a few examples of the impact this period had on the architecture of the district.

In the 1950s, this district played a major role in the desegregation of commercial establishments, particularly along the 200 block of West Lexington Street. Protests and sit-ins led by the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), students from Morgan State College and other groups, desegregated lunch counters and helped to open store services to all patrons. Although these were popular retailers, their discriminatory practices during the Jim Crow era meant that African-American patrons were not allowed to participate in ordinary activities like trying on clothing or eating at the lunch counter. From 1953 to 1955, sit-in demonstrations took place at lunch counters in five & dime stores like McCrory’s, Woolworths and Reads, all located within the proposed district.

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By the 1960s, suburbanization and the desire for auto-oriented retail drew many major retailers out of the historic commercial core of the city and to areas like Edmondson Village, Mondawmin Mall and Towson. The district remained home to smaller retailers; however, many of the buildings were underused. In 1999 the area was named as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and in 2001 Baltimore City signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust with the goal of preserving significant City-owned buildings.