- For the historic house at 811 W. Lanvale Street, see Upton (Baltimore, Maryland)
Upton is a low-income African American neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. It is located roughly between Freemont Avenue and McCulloh Street, extending from Dolphin Street to Bloom Street. Its principal thoroughfare is Pennsylvania Avenue.
Upton was one of the most affluent African American neighborhoods in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. The Pennsylvania Avenue commuter rail station on the Baltimore and Potomac Rail Road was built in 1884. By the 1920s, Upton was home to most educated African American property owners in Baltimore. To its south and west were the poor and working class African American neighborhoods of "The Bottom," and to its east were German American and Jewish American neighborhoods.
Pennsylvania Avenue was the premiere shopping strip for black Baltimorians, inspiring comparisons to Lenox Avenue in Harlem. It was home to professionals such as doctors and lawyers, retailers who served a middle class and upscale clientele, jazz clubs, dance halls, theaters, and other public and private institutions for the black community. Upton was also the staging grounds for much of the local and national civil rights movement. Booker T Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey all visited local churches. The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was based in Upton. Cab Calloway grew up in Upton, and Eubie Blake performed his debut in a club on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Royal Theater, at Pennsylvania and Lafayette, became a mainstay on the Chitlin Circuit.
In the mid-20th century, Upton's population swelled due to the popularity of the neighborhood and the pressures of segregation that kept African Americans confined to certain areas. Single family homes were subdivided into small apartments, and Pennsylvania Avenue's sidewalks crowded on Saturday nights, as loud music and heavy drinking became popular vices of Upton residents. Upper income black families began abandoning the area for neighborhoods further from the center of the city. In the 1960s and '70s, controversial urban renewal projects destroyed much of Upton's historic architecture, especially in the southwestern portion of the neighborhood. The result ultimately only replaced a portion of what was removed with public housing projects. Once the buildings were razed it was difficult to secure developers to build new construction. The Royal Theater was demolished in 1971. Further problems faced Upton during this time in the form of economic depression, housing abandonment, gangs, prostitution, crime, and racial rioting.
The eastern section of the neighborhood, relatively untouched by urban renewal, was declared a historic district in 1985. This area is today known as Marble Hill. It contains many historic rowhouses of the Queen Anne and Italianate styles with high ceilings, ironwork, and white marble steps.
Upton is about a fifteen-minute walk from Downtown Baltimore. It is served by the Baltimore Metro Subway with the Upton/Avenue Market Metro Subway Station station underneath the corners of Pennsylvania and Laurens Street. Bus Route 7 also runs along Pennsylvania Avenue, and Routes 5 and 21 run near the neighborhood.
Pennsylvania Avenue is now lined with sneaker shops, nail salons, liquor stores, dollar stores, other low-rent commercial uses, and many abandoned storefronts. The Avenue Market sells produce and holds occasional events such as jazz shows. Many flashing blue light crime surveillance cameras now line much of Pennsylvania Ave due to the heavy drug-trafficking in the area.
According to the city, 60% of Upton families with children under 5 are living in poverty. The median home sale price in Upton in 2004 (not including Marble Hill) was $28,054. Many of the rowhouses in the neighborhood are vacant, either abandoned by their property owners or owned by the city.
- Upton's Marble Hill
- Marble Hill Historic District
- Master Plan for Upton, City of Baltimore, September 2005
- LiveBaltimore Profile
- Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth