Blast from the Past

April 11, 2007

Week of April 8, 1957

Outdoor toilets, crumbling walls, rotting door and window frames, whole families living in a single room, yards littered with trash, broken bottles and animal leavings, babies bitten by rats - these things are not confined to the stifling cities or the shacks of Tobacco Road. They exist here in Hagerstown.

Furthermore, they are on display this week. The Washington County Health Department is taking all interested persons on slum tours of the Hagerstown area. Yesterday's tour began with a drive past an Interval Road shack.

On the next block, a development of modern attractive ranch homes is being built. In the background, the beautiful new Pangborn Boulevard school can be seen. Interval Road is one of the "fringe areas" located just outside of the city. No housing or zoning codes exist for it, and the only limitation on conditions is when they become a "public nuisance".


In Hagerstown itself, there is the Clarkson Avenue home, where 11 children and their parents are jammed into four rooms. All use a single outdoor toilet. The father, who is partially disabled, works at Goodwill Industries. The family can afford nothing better.

Next on the tour was a basement apartment on East Franklin Street. There are four dark rooms, a flimsy staircase, and only one entrance - and there are rats. Living there are four youngsters and their parents. They pay $15 a month for their basement flat. "We can't find any other place where they'll let us take the kids," said the mother.

In the same block is a family of four living in a single room. They manage this by backing up a double bed against each of two walls, with a stove against the third, and a large chair by the fourth.

Week of April 8, 1982

Until this month, Jun and Masahiro Hirai were looking forward to watching business at their House of Kobe restaurant blossom like the first flowers of spring. They hoped that the Japanese restaurant would show a healthy profit by the time its six-month anniversary rolled around in May.

Their list of steady customers was growing until city building inspector Jerry Wolfe declared the building that houses the restaurant unsafe. Wolfe said the facade on the Dagmar Annex where the restaurant is located could collapse at any time.

That news, plus safety precautions taken to protect passersby on West Antietam Street have made it nearly impossible for the Hirais to operate a successful restaurant, they said. Wolfe closed the street in front of the restaurant three weeks ago. A wooden walkway conceals the House of Kobe's facade.

As a result, potential customers don't know the restaurant exists, and regular customers think the restaurant has been closed, the Hirais said. A three-member city board of review said last week that the House of Kobe's quarters are safe, but that it would be cheaper for Dagmar owner Hilton Smith to tear down the upper three floors of the building than to try to rebuild them.

The Dagmar Annex owner's attorney Charles Creager said there has been no movement in the facade wall or any other part of the building. "Both of us believe that the city is wrong in its position, it's as simple as that," Creager said.

- Compiled by Kelly Moreno

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