the north by 40th and 41st Street, and to the west by the Jones Falls Expressway. The Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University is a short distance to the east.
Hampden was originally settled as a residential community for workers at the mills that sprung up along the Jones Falls; its first residents were in place well before the area was annexed to Baltimore City in the early 20th century. Many of its residents came to the area from the hill country of Kentucky, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania, looking for work in the mills. This influx cemented the image of the neighborhood for the decades that followed as a white, working-class, socially conservative enclave. However, like most of Baltimore, Hampden declined somewhat during the economic troubles of the 1980s-90s.
In the 1990s the neighorhood, conveniently located vis-a-vis Johns Hopkins and downtown and relatively safe when compared to other, more blighted areas of the city, was discovered by artists and other bohemians , who began the process of gentrification. Over the past decade, housing prices in Hampden have skyrocketed, and the area’s commercial center, a four block stretch of West 36th Street known as The Avenue, has seen trendy boutiques and restaurants occupy storefronts that had become vacant when poor economic conditions forced many of the Avenue’s traditional retailers to close. It is also home to Morton Street Dance Center, Atomic Books, The True Vine, Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and popular Mobtown Players. The Woodberry station on the Baltimore Light Rail system is just on the other side of the Jones Falls Expressway, within walking distance of much of the neighborhood.
In contrast, traditional residents have deep roots there, and there is a certain tension between longtime Hampdenites and so-called “hamsters” (Hampden hipsters).
Baltimore has in recent years embraced certain aspects of Hampden’s traditional culture; the neighborhood is home to the annual “Hon Festival” (also called HonFest and named after the term “Hon,” a term of endearment used by Hampdenites and Baltimoreans generally), which features attendees who tease their hair into the enormous beehive hairdos of the 1960s. The festival also features a contest to find the best “Bawlmerese,” Baltimore’s unique accent, since Hampden’s accent is generally considered the thickest of all the city’s neighborhoods.
Hampden’s 34th Street near the southern end of the neighborhood celebrates the Christmas holiday every year with the “Miracle on 34th Street” where home owners on both sides of the street decorate their houses with thousands of lights and Christmas decorations, attracting visitors from all over the world to see the spectacle.
Most of the housing stock in Hampden consists of modestly sized two-story rowhouses. There are very few areas amenable to further development in the neighborhood, a factor in the rising housing costs in the area. However, a very large mixed use development will begin construction in 2007 in Hampden, at the site of the Historic Rotunda shopping center. The size and scale of this development has created some some controversy for this neighborhood. Local Hampden landmarks include the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Burgee Hess Funeral Home, St. Thomas Aquinus Catholic Church, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Hampden School #55 and #56, Baltimore Polytechnic, and Western High School.
Hampden received perhaps its most prominent nationwide exposure in 1999, when Baltimore native John Waters filmed his movie Pecker there. Starring Hollywood actors like Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, Martha Plimpton, and Lili Taylor, the film celebrated Hampden’s traditional culture just as it began to, in some ways irrevocably, fade.