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Hampden: Keeping Baltimore Weird

Written by Emily Dierkes / Photographed by Kirsten Marie In central Texas, they say, “Keep Austin Weird.” And up in the Pacific Northwest, it’s “Keep Portland Weird.” But despite the lack of an official bumper-sticker-worthy slogan, there’s something in the water here in Baltimore that makes Charm City a bit odd—and that’s the way we like it. Its quirkiness is infectious and always seems to draw Baltimoreans back. After growing up in a very sheltered private, all-girls school world in northern Baltimore City, I ran away to an out-of-state art school never to return, save for Christmas and Thanksgiving. But Baltimore has changed, and I suppose so have I. Although outsiders may judge Charm City through Wire-colored lenses, as an artist, Baltimore is a perfect place to live and work, and there is no better neighborhood than Hampden to make your livelihood. Doing things a little out of order of my Catholic upbringing, my boyfriend, John, and I started thinking about purchasing a house together in Baltimore last winter. We had very few demands. After renting in socalled “healthy neighborhoods” and being robbed twice, we just wanted to avoid heavy-crime areas (even though most were super affordable). We looked into a few different neighborhoods, including Waverly, Ednor Gardens, and Lauraville, but in our minds, the perfect ‘hood for us was Hampden—centrally located, easy parking, cute row homes, great shops and restaurants, and low crime. Serendipitously, we wound up purchasing our Hampden dream home last May, as an estate sale by word of mouth from a dear friend. After a few short months of grueling paperwork, here I sit, on my wrap-around porch in the late-afternoon sun, a homeowner in my favorite part of the city that I love. Hampden is a mecca for the off-kilter, the camp, and kitsch—from the giant, fiberglass pink flamingo adorning the front of Café Hon; to the annual Hampdenfest Toilet Races, in which drivers careen down 36th St. in a potty boxcar derby; to Hampden’s own Miracle on 34th St. light display, which can surely be seen from space. Over the past couple of decades, The Avenue, 36 St., Hampden’s main drag, has organically transformed into an eclectic mishmash of brightly colored store fronts and unique restaurants fit only for Charm City. You can’t talk about Hampden without mentioning Hons, the working-class Baltimoreans of the 1950s and 60s, particularly women, known for their outlandish style—think leopard spandex, blue eye shadow, beehive hair, and colorful cat-eye glasses. Hon, short for honey, doubles as a warm term of endearment for Baltimoreans. Each June, locals dress in their 1960s best to vie for the title of Bawlmer’s Best Hon at Honfest, a celebration of Hon culture and the working-class roots of Hampden residents, who have always had a certain pride about being part of this quirky ‘hood. 26

Profile for DomiCile Magazine

DomiCile Winter 2013/2014  

The Winter 2013/2014 Issue is the premiere issue of DomiCile Magazine. It highlights the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland and sho...

DomiCile Winter 2013/2014  

The Winter 2013/2014 Issue is the premiere issue of DomiCile Magazine. It highlights the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland and sho...

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