ACROSS THE BACK RIVER, just beyond Baltimore's city limit, the American Dream was bleeding to death on Eastern Avenue. Already by the 1970s, the once bustling thoroughfare bore the telltale markers of sustained disinvestment: deserted sidewalks, empty storefronts, and "For Lease" signs posted in windows. Vestiges of the great postwar boom were hard to find; most had either disappeared or been transformed beyond recognition. Decline came in incremental steps as merchants closed their doors one by one, forced out of business by decreasing profit margins or lured to areas where business was more lucrative. The departure of national chain stores--Woolworth's, the A&P, Read's Drugs--left local shoppers with no place to procure basic provisions, no place to buy groceries, no place to get a shirt pressed or a dress cleaned. Save for peddlers of pornographic material and vendors of cheap novelty items, few businesses expressed an interest in leasing commercial property.
The diners, bowling alleys, and trailer parks along Eastern Avenue did not fare particularly well in the depressed environment of