The sight of a newly resplendent Everyman Theatre made me get off a bus the other day as I was heading west on Fayette Street. I had to get a closer look at the city's newest gem.
Throughout this year, I've been popping into the entrance of the former vaudeville and movie house for a sneak preview of the place where I once saw "Around the World in Eighty Days." Wow, I thought: The old Town Theater never looked like this.
The dramatic refurbishment of this piece of Baltimore's theatrical history caught me unprepared. It ranks as one of the most dramatic changes in the city this year.
Architects Cho Benn Holback have restored and tweaked this downtown landmark's facade. At night it's lighted in a most flattering manner and gives a bright, clean and pristine impression. The new signage is sophisticated. It makes you want to walk up and buy a ticket.
Over the summer, I managed to spot an old painted sign across the entrance. It dated from the hard times of the 1930s, when the theater closed and its auditorium became a parking garage. It was a reminder of the former shabbiness, but also speaks to the age and nine lives of this structure.
The new Everyman Theatre is in something of a new neighborhood too. The past year has demonstrated that downtown Baltimore is becoming increasingly residential, as old office buildings, schools and commercial buildings are repurposed as rental housing units.
The Downtown Partnership reported earlier this year that about 4,000 residents live in this section of downtown — a 130 percent increase in a decade.
I've heard about plans for a huge conversion and rebuilding of the old Recreation Center, later Maryland Planned Parenthood headquarters, around the corner from Everyman at Howard near Monument. The Recreation Center was once the largest duckpin bowling arena in the state.
A key question for 2013 will be whether the city follows through with more cleanup in this neighborhood. Is it unrealistic to ask whether the nearby Lexington Market should go the route of the Everyman and get a renovation?
Another 2012 head-turner is the continuing restoration of Falls Road's Mount Vernon Mill. This was also a building that saw a lot of hard work and hard times when canvas products were made here. The mill, which served as an anonymous-looking warehouse for decades, shaped up this summer and fall as a showplace of the Jones Falls Valley. Workers punched through the roof and added a clerestory pop-up. New Victorian-style windows go in week by week. It'll be interesting to see what restaurant will open here too.
And with 2012's opening of the Birroteca restaurant about a half-mile north of the mill restoration, the Falls and Clipper Mill roads corridor is shaping up as a new destination.
Another 2012 dazzler is the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore, at Mount Royal and Charles in Mount Vernon. The exterior of this landmark-in-the-making is highly visible, but wait until the building opens. Its interior is a revelation, also clean and modern.
Most attention in 2012 around the Johns Hopkins Hospital focused on its new building, but work also began on the Henderson School at Patterson Park and Ashland avenues. The new Baltimore School of Design took shape in the old Lebow Brothers men's clothing factory in Station North. And the former Patterson Park High School, also known as Hampstead Hill Junior High, took shape as apartments.
The city's largest residential change happened in Brewers Hill near Canton, where about 600 new rental units rose. We recognize this neighborhood by its familiar Natty Boh sign, but this year, the news was that its old rival, the old Gunther Brewery, began a new purpose, also as a place to live.