Real Estate & Home

Baltimore County Estate With A Grand Past Languishes in Foreclosure

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I am often approached by friends with ideas for “Houstory” subjects. While I appreciate the enthusiasm (truly, I do), there have been some suggestions that have been off. For example, a friend told me about a house in her neighborhood where a murder had taken place in the ‘50s. Today, the same house is subject to late night police intervention to settle frequent domestic disputes. The angle for the story, she breezily explained, would be a prediction that history would repeat itself in this same, apparently cursed, home. Um, thanks anyway.

So you can understand my hesitation when, in the spring, my most eccentric friend suggested a story on a house he had discovered on one of his “drunk dog-walks.” (Don’t ask. I certainly didn’t.) “It’s old, romantic and oozing history,” he said, “one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen…we can go look at it now.” My friend knows extraordinary homes (some might tie his eccentricities to a life of dysfunctional privilege), so my curiosity was piqued. When he revealed the house had been put up for auction and no one had bid, I knew I had to see it. I had an hour to kill before carpool, he seemed relatively sober; off we went.

We drove slowly up the very discreet and lovely Stewart Road in Stevenson, noting all the pretty houses as we passed, and there are plenty. (Some of them are still inhabited by the descendants of the early owners of the house we were headed to spy.) At the end of the road we came to a newish-looking security gate, half covered in overgrown grass with a brass plate that read “Cliffeholme.” The locked gate forced us to officially trespass, hopping over it and continuing on foot–nervously. We agreed, if caught, we’d say, “We’re interested in the house.” Only when I got a full view of the place did I (in Gap yoga pants and a dirty T) realize just how lame that excuse would seem.

Cliffeholme is simply breathtaking. It is a tudor-style masterpiece on 9-acres that, to my eye, makes the country aesthetic of the typical Baltimore County mansion seem crude and even a little Podunk. Maybe it was because I was in the throes of an affair with the BBC series Downtown Abbey, or maybe because The Secret Garden was the first book I really fell for, or because I had just seen the beautiful new film adaptation of Jane Eyre, but I was mesmerized. I could see past the sad signs of decline (the home has been uninhabited for three years) and pictured Cliffeholme in its heyday: little girls with huge bows in their curls playing on the lawn, a father returning from the hunt dressed in natty riding gear, ample-bosomed servants scurrying to fix supper as an aristocratic matriarch looks on. Turns out, I was right on the money.

 

The house that eventually became Cliffeholme was built in 1848 by James Howard, son of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard. As president of the Baltimore and Susquehanna railroad, Mr. Howard was responsible for building the “Green Spring Branch” of the local train route–he built his house adjacent to the newly erected “Eccleston Station.” Sadly, he sold the house a mere six years later, when his wife, Catherine, died. One can assume that the house held too many memories. Adding to the romantic tragedy is a deed dated nine months after her death that listed the widower as “James Howard, Lunatic.”

Better days lay ahead for Cliffeholme when it was purchased in 1872 by Charles Morton Stewart from Robert North Elder. Stewart bought Cliffeholme as a summer house. At the time, it was “a square, deeply walled old house, rather plain in appearance inside and out,” according to Dawn F. Thomas who wrote The Greenspring Valley: Its History and Heritage. Mr. Stewart was a shipping magnate who made his fortune bringing Brazilian coffee to the United States. With oodles of money, 18 kids and loads of fancy friends, the Stewarts were ready to splash out on their new summer pad. Two large parlors were constructed along with a study, picture gallery, library and “dancing room,” while the basement was outfitted to house the kitchen, laundry, servants’ quarters and a “lock-up” storeroom. Now party-ready, Cliffeholme served as a backdrop for all types of elite social fun. The Stewarts held a variety of fox hunting events and timber races on the grounds as well as a literary and artistic salon which counted Charles Dickens among its guests. Eleanor Stewart Heiser, a daughter of Charles Morton Stewart, recalled the family’s grand travel style in her book, Days Gone By.

“Two wagons transported steamer trunks to the estate, while the older children and servants traveled by steam train to Eccleston. Finally, Mrs. Stewart and her coachmen, dressed in the Stewart livery, green broadcloth piped in red with a gold lace band around the black silk hat, headed out with the little ones in the family carriage.”

Today they would definitely be in the private plane set.

“There were 13 master bedrooms. A large veranda encircled the house, which Mother had measured to know how many times ‘up and down’ made a mile, and on rainy days many constitutionals were taken there.” The Stewarts occupied Cliffeholme for nearly 60 idyllic years. Halcyon days, indeed.

The next chapter in Cliffeholme’s story belongs to Charles Alexander, founder of Alexander & Alexander, the Baltimore insurance brokerage. He purchased the home at the height of the Jazz Age (another delicious image) and initiated a renovation that is responsible for many of the home’s distinguishing characteristics. He covered its facade in cream-colored stucco and changed windows to casements with mullions and leaded glass. He added a great window set over the entrance, enfusing a Masterpiece Theater flare. Other architectural highlights include the marble fireplaces and mantels (13 in all), finely detailed crown and dental moldings and mahogany paneling. He also renovated the bathrooms with I920s fixtures like elegant porcelain pedestal sinks and tubs large enough to hold visiting President William Howard Taft, who was a hefty 300-plus pounds. Charles Alexander died in 1958 and an auction of his books, paintings and antiques was held a Cliffeholme. (Can you imagine the treasures?)

A year later, Cliffeholme was sold to Reuben and Beatrice Fedderman. The Feddermans owned an East Baltimore furniture store and spent their time raising two kids and tending to their business. The days of the large glamourous parties and illustrious guests were over. Decades later, when the house became too expensive to heat, Mr. and Mrs. Fedderman took up residence in the basement, leaving the upper floors to the vagaries of benign neglect.

When the couple finally decided to sell the house in 1998, it was in need of major renovation and languished on the market for years. Laureate Education Chairman and C.E.O. and Sylvan Learning founder Doug Becker bought it with plans to renovate it with his new bride. The newlyweds ultimately abandoned the plan and soon the house was on the market again.

Unfortunately, Becker had done little to the place (he never moved in), so it faced the same obstacles that kept it on the market before: tons of expensive renovations, unlivable quarters due to disrepair, and a massive house too big for family life in the new century.

One of the many obstacles to purchase were the contingencies. Every potential buyer ordered a house inspection and the results–termites, an oil tank buried beneath the yard, major roof repair, replacement of all systems–soured the deal.

In 2002, just when Becker had verbally closed the deal with a local family, Larry Cohoon, a Texas businessman who found the property for sale in the Wall Street Journal, swooped in with a $1.1 million cash offer, no contingencies.

Sold.

An out-of-towner in one of Baltimore’s most storied houses? The new owner made neighbors uneasy. But at least he had the money to fix up the place–or ruin it depending on your taste.

The discovery of a website devoted to the house, with shots of the “parking lot,” increased suspicion about the Texan’s motives. Was he planning to use it for some other purpose? Weddings? Bar Mitzvahs? These possibilities never came to pass thanks to a move by neighbors to put the property in the Maryland Historical Trust.

One year and $2 million later, the house was transformed, and in 2004, Melinda and Steve Geppi, head of Diamond Comics and Baltimore Magazine publisher, bought the mansion for $4.8 million. 

Geppi’s financial woes are well known so we won’t go into details here, but after he placed the property on the market in 2009 for $7.7 million, the house went into foreclosure and eventually to auction in 2010. Bidding opened at $3.7 million, but no one bought it.

Bank of America owns Cliffeholme now. It still maintains its old world luster but with the added vulgarity of modern times: custom audio and lighting, a wine room, a home theater, a gourmet kitchen with granite up one side and down the other, and, of course, a gym.

Where are Cliffeholme’s next house-passionate, extravagant party-throwing owners, and mightn’t they like to open the gate and have me over for a casual design consultation? Wait, first let me change from yoga clothes to cocktail.

The Top Five Maryland Real Estate Sales in the DC Suburbs

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Our friends over at DC Curbed have compiled an eye-opening list of the Top Five Sales in Maryland Real Estate in the D.C. suburbs.  The bottom three on the list float in the $5-6 million range: a Bethesda home that sold for $5,795,000, an Annapolis home that sold for $5,650,000, and a 3 bedroom condo in the Parc Somerset building that sold for $5,000,000.   

The runner up on the list is a Bethesda home that was purchased by Nextel founder Chris Rogers for $10 million, and the number one top sell? Ted Leonsis’s purchase of the Marwood Estate (pictured), which has reportedly housed a number of American legends including the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Kennedys, and the Gores.  Leonsis bought the estate for $20 million.

By contrast, the most expensive Baltimore real estate sale in the past year is the October 2010 purchase of a downtown home located at 884 W. Fayette St. for $7,822,368, followed by an Owings Mills home which reportedly sold for $3,300,000. 

Stay tuned for a list of this year’s top real estate sales in the Baltimore Fishbowl!

Stemmer House Sells in Eleventh Hour

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The Sun reported last week that Stemmer House sold the night before it was to go to auction. But to whom? The Sun could not get the details. We have been poking around all week to get someone to identify the new owner so we could report it to you, dear reader, but to no avail.  Now we appeal to you: Does anyone know who has the house estate under contract?

Let us know in the comments. 

Downsizing with Elegance

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HOT HOUSE: 230 Stony Run Lane #3F Baltimore, MD 21210

Large, airy condo in the grand old Gardens of Guilford apartments near Johns Hopkins University.  Two bedroom, two bath, 1,510 sq. ft. home with stunning roof terrace: $299,000

What: A rare find. A large, well-maintained apartment in one of the most desirable buildings in north Baltimore. The Gardens of Guilford were built in 1924, a good year,  as America was riding a pre-Depression high and construction budgets were lavish. Its distinctive Mediterranean style–rounded roof tiles, thick walls, big windows, stucco exterior–whispers “old money.” Through attractive gardens and up two flights of stairs, #3F opens into an apartment that’s full of light and charm. A large, sunny living room to the left of the foyer has a wall of windows and French doors that open onto the roof terrace–easily the crown jewel of the building. Beautifully designed, generous in size and luxurious in planting, the terrace could comfortably accommodate a dinner party of six to eight, cocktails for twenty. A trickle of water runs musically into a small fountain. Dappled shade from tall trees creates a real feeling of oasis in the city. It’s hard to leave the terrace to go inside, but once there the apartment is a delight. The living room has a cozy fireplace and built-in bookcases. Walk through the open dining room into a nicely modernized kitchen, both with good-sized windows. Two hallways lead off the main area, one leads to the smaller of the bedrooms  (13×13’) and a new bathroom with glassed in-shower. The second hallway leads to a very big (13×19’) second bedroom, currently a chic office, with an expanse of windows running along one wall. Another wall has built-in cabinets with square doors, running floor to ceiling and providing a wealth of storage. There’s a good-sized closet here as well, and a second bathroom is out in the corridor.  Apartment has forced air heat and central air too, for days when even these amazing windows aren’t enough.  

Where: Tucked in between St. Paul Street and University Parkway, in the beautiful, quiet neighborhood of Tuscany-Canterbury. A very short walk to Johns Hopkins University, Charles Village and Baltimore Museum of Art. To get there, take 39th Street off of St. Paul Street or University Parkway to Stony Run Lane. Stay straight at the stop sign to Gardens of Guilford. Entrance is on the right at top of circle labeled 3.

Apartment is on the third floor to the right.  

Why: The roof terrace alone would do it, but this place checks a lot of boxes. Secluded yet convenient. Stylish yet dignified. Safe, secure and very walkable. 

Would Suit: Bronte Mitchell, the environmentalist who hooks up with Gerard Depardieu in Green Card, the ‘80’s romantic comedy.  If you haven’t seen it lately, then think Hopkins professor. Also, downsizers and/or travelers–it’s an ideal turn-the-key-and-go type building. 

Why Not: Watering the roof garden might become a chore… 

Cozy (Green) Treehouses Overlook Clipper Mill

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HOT HOUSE: 3415 Woodberry Avenue, Baltimore, 21211

Overlooking Clipper Mill and Woodberry, a contemporary style, new-built, green design, three story house in a small development with access to the Woodberry swimming pool: $529,000.

What: An interesting idea. Streuver Brothers started this group of 38 houses, then BB&T bank bought and finished them. Now they’re on the market as “contemporary park homes with wooded views and the latest in sustainable design options.” All true. Built to very high LEED silver environmental standards, they are currently the greenest houses in the mid-Atlantic. The houses are free-standing, although the lots are very small, and somehow they feel like town homes. High on an outcropping above the Clipper Mill village, they do offer a rare chance to own a contemporary home in an ancient and fascinating corner of the city. Inside, you walk up the stairs to an airy open plan living room with 10’ ceilings.  Expansive glass windows have views of trees and the old industrial buildings of Clipper Mill.  Outside is a nice deck. A dining area, and a sleek galley kitchen are on the main floor too, the kitchen with Bosch stainless steel appliances, granite counters and hardwood floors.  Upstairs are three bedrooms and three and a half baths. Downstairs is a large family room, with natural light and another deck. Nothing amazing, except the views, but all very nice. Central air, gas fireplace, one car garage. Realtor says that only eight units are left.  Hmmmm…maybe.
 
Where:  Off the beaten track. Take Union Avenue down the hill from Falls Road, and back up to cross over the Light Rail tracks. Stay straight as it narrows and becomes Clipper Park Road. You’ll pass Woodberry Kitchen on your right. Hang a sharp left just past the Stable onto Woodberry Avenue and up a steep-ish hill.  From here, you can walk to the Light Rail (just 15 minutes to downtown), Woodberry Kitchen and the Jones Falls hiking/biking trail. Good access to I-83, too.  

Why: It’s something different and kind of cool. Snug in your nest, up in the trees, behind walls of glass, with a nice combination of industrial and rural views, you can feel happily superior to your suburban friends, living in so not-green brick boxes. Plus, feeling like you’re supporting the arts community, somehow, just by living here … Plus, chance to be a barfly at Woodberry Kitchen, lounge lizard at the fabulous pool.

Would suit: divorcees, hipsters with a trust-fund, artists–at-heart, environmentally-conscious retirees.

Why Not: Although striking, their modern styling is not that great looking, except at night.  Getting down the hill in snow or ice could be a problem. 

The Union Mill: Courting Baltimore Teachers With Low Cost & High Style

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As you turn off Falls Road in Hampden, heading downhill on Union Avenue towards Meadow Mill and Woodberry Kitchen, it’s hard not to slow down to admire the construction project that is the Union Mill. The mill lies low in a hollow beside the Jones Falls; in the mornings, mist hangs in the air.

A shady and nameless bar across the street seems to be open 24/7, and at odd hours men and women stagger out, light a cigarette, head back in. The setting has an Edward Hopper beauty, and there was a time in my life when living there would have been extremely appealing. Now–too late for me–it will be possible. Over the past year and a half, the Union Mill at 1500 Union Avenue has been the latest project of the Seawall Development Company–turning an abandoned stone factory into a mixed-use building designed and managed specifically for non-profits and teachers– an innovative development concept that looks like a win-win for Baltimore city. 

The History

Built in 1866, the Druid Mill, as it was then called, was, in its heyday, one of several Mt. Vernon mills that used the water from the Jones Falls to make cotton duck, a heavy fabric used in clothing, tents and sails. A plaque on the lintel reads “Mt. Vernon Mill # 4,” in reference to the Clipper, Meadow and Woodberry Mills located nearby. When the mill stopped producing fabric in the 1920’s, the building functioned as a warehouse until it was purchased by the Kramer brothers just after World War II. The Kramers used it as a factory to make toys and accessories for model trains, supplying the then booming hobby business.  Eventually, it fell back into use as a warehouse, and was finally abandoned until just last year, when it was sold to Donald Manekin, a successful Harford County developer. Manekin is a founding partner in the Seawall Development Company, a local business with an interesting history, one that specializes in the burgeoning sector of “socially responsible development.”

Socially responsible development is the idea that building design can impact not only the lives of its residents, but help rehabilitate distressed urban areas.  In the case of Seawall, the concept began with the father-son team of Donald and Thibault Manekin. Don Manekin is the former owner/operator of building giant Manekin Construction, which he sold in 2000. Around the same time as he accepted the unpaid position, offered by his friend Bill Streuver, as CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System. The years he spent there proved to be a turning point in his life, as he says “talking to teachers, and learning about education in Baltimore from the inside-out.” By the time, in 2005, that his son Thibault returned from South Africa–where he had started his own sports-related non-profit enterprise–the two were ready to begin the give-back. The solution combined their experience in construction and development with a real ambition to help a city in need. “It all came out of those conversations with teachers,” Manekin says.

The Mission

Teaching in Baltimore city is by any definition a hard job. Teacher retention rates are low–with less than half of new hires staying more that five years and a third leaving after two–costing the city over $100, 000 for each defection. Many of the young teachers Manikin met expressed a sense of isolation and discouragement due to a variety of factors–moving to a new and unfamiliar city, learning to engage children from distressed environments, and lack of support within the system. With 750 new teachers arriving in Baltimore every year, many of them with Teach for America, and most of them financially strapped, finding affordable housing is yet another challenge. After conducting a series of interviews and surveys with teachers, the Manekins began to translate the results into design elements for a kind of social experiment–buildings that would support teachers by encouraging collaboration and creating a sense of community. The vision was to “roll out the red carpet for teachers,” Manekin says, to improve retention rates and “maybe get them to stay in Baltimore.”

Miller’s Court

In 2007, Donald and Thibault Manekin, together with partner Evan Morville, used a combination of federal and state tax credits, New Market tax credits, enterprise zone credits and private financing to buy and renovate the old Miller Can Factory at 2601 North Howard Street–cost, around $20 million. The resulting building, Miller’s Court, is a mixed residential and commercial space with 40 one, two and three-bedroom affordable apartments for teachers, as well as 35,000 square feet of office space leased at below market rates by education-related non-profits. Six teachers from Teach For America helped design the project. Architect Tom Liebel and his team at Marks, Thomas Architects incorporated many of their ideas into the final plans.

Learning that teachers spend a lot of time in copy shops because often schools don’t have enough copy equipment, a workroom with a high-volume copier became part of the plan. Instead of late night runs to the copy shop, teachers can hang out and chat while using the center. An old loading dock was reconfigured with a fire pit and benches as an outdoor space, the central court is now a bocce court –all with the idea of creating an environment where people with common interests interact with one another, share problems and maybe come up with solutions. The non-profit organizations that support these teachers are right downstairs, and include Catholic Charities, Experience Corps, the Baltimore Urban Debate League and Playworks.

Here, shared training, conference and meeting rooms that can accommodate from two to 100 people greatly reduce the space requirements, and thereby, the cost of operating. Businesses with similar goals are in close proximity to each other. A voice on the phone becomes a face in the hall. Ideas are exchanged. Things, hopefully, get done better and faster. “To the extent that we can make a teacher’s life easier,” says Evan Morville, “that is the mission.”

The good news for the partners in Seawall was that their vision met with success. Six months before completion, the building was completely pre-leased, and there was a waiting list of 400 teachers for future projects. Miller’s Court became the regional headquarters for Teach For America. And as the Manekins hoped, the building is having a ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Rehabilitation of the abandoned building, a former neighborhood blight, has inspired nearby buildings to improve their own appearance, and helped to spur investment in the neighborhood. In 2010, fresh from their success at Miller’s Court, the Seawall Development Company went looking for another project, and found it in Hampden–at the Union Mill.

The Union Mill

At 86,000 square feet, a full block long, the Union Mill is gigantic. With its Italianate lines and beautiful stonework, it’s a more architecturally interesting building than Miller’s Court.  Recently re-pointed, the stones stand out clean and strong in walls that are over two-feet-thick. Partner Evan Morville, who is often on-site, credits the artistry of his stonemason, Ron Kemper, with the striking result. “His guys are the best I’ve ever worked with,” he says. The large paned windows have been completely replaced, trim freshly painted, and the back wall of the factory exposed to great effect.

The plan is closely based on the Miller’s Court model. The price tag of around $20 million is about the same. Ditto the financing–a combination of state and federal tax credits and private financing.  The same construction firm, Hamel Builders, and the same architect, Tom Liebel of Marks, Thomas Architects, are on board. 35,000 square feet of the building will be affordable office space, where the non-profits that help to power Baltimore’s urban economy–education, human service and health-related–can work side-by-side, sharing ideas and space, and cutting cost of overhead. Another 50,000 square feet will be residential, with 54 one and two-bedroom apartments, offered at below market rates to teachers. Common spaces, including conference and training rooms, a copy center, a free gym/fitness center, free parking, an outdoor courtyard and a café  (open to the public) in the old boiler room, offer both convenience and economies of scale.  Currently, 90 percent of the office space has been pre-leased to non-profits. Of the 54 apartments, all but seven are rented as of last week. And if there are no one-bedroom units available, Seawall will match two willing sharers together in a two-bedroom.

Seawall is not just a development company, but a management company, which means that there is as least one person, often more, in the buildings all the time, to take care of problems as they occur. So far, according to Morville, everything is running smoothly. Will the Pepsi bottling plant, just 50 yards down the hill be a problem for the residents? Nope–the walls of the factory are thick enough to block the noise, and after all “this is a city.” Any problems with crime and security?  “No problems at all,” says Morville, in fact the neighborhood has been amazingly supportive.  Manekin agrees. “In every way, the Hampden and Woodberry community associations have made this project a success.”  Seawall is so comfortable here in fact, they are moving office headquarters to a large block of space on the ground floor.

On a tour of Union Mill last week, most of the apartments exhibit more of the high style and quality construction you would expect in a top-end condo than subsidized rental apartments (units will rent to teachers for between $700 and $1,200). Each unit features exposed original columns, timber beams, beautiful old wainscoting and true plaster walls, all left as reminders of the original function of the building. The large arched windows of the factory are a striking feature in many. But essentially the apartments are sleek and modern in feeling, with polished concrete floors, glass pendant kitchen lighting, Shaker-style cabinetry and wide louvered blinds at the oversized windows. They’re great looking–a place you’d be proud to come home to at the end of the day.

And did someone say green? Part of Seawall’s mission (and part of the requirement for the historic tax-credit funding) is environmental sustainability. Here, as at Miller’s Court, much has been done to conserve energy resources, above and beyond the obvious environmental benefits of rehabbing an existing site rather than sending it to the landfill.  Energy-efficient windows, check. High-efficiency heating and cooling, check. And insulation—invisible but everywhere. Interestingly, the idea of a communal laundry room Seawall initially included in plans (more environmentally friendly, as people tend to do bigger loads, less frequently) was flat-out rejected by the teachers, who felt that the dorm period of their life was well over. A compelling reminder of the sustainability mission are old machinery and industrial parts from the factory site, which have been reworked by local artists and sculptors from MICA into thought provoking artwork to be placed indoors and outside at the Union Mill.

“We look at real estate as an opportunity to effectuate change,” says Evan Morville, wearing a hard hat and gazing up at the stone building nearing completion.

One change has already happened–an abandoned factory, beautifully refitted for the needs of another century. The more important change, for Baltimore City–a chance at improving the lives of teachers and hopefully, their students–has just begun.

Stemmer House Goes Up for Auction Weds.

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What a steal! We fell in love with Stemmer House when we featured it in Houstory in May. Now The Sun reports that the Owings Mills estate–complete with 27+ acres, two barns, a pool, a pond, glorious gardens and more–will go to auction in two days, August 3. Minimum bid: $1.4 million.

It’s a blessing or a curse, depending which side of the sale your on. But how can this be? Houses with a lot less acreage and features sell for a lot more around the city and county. It would be a shame to see this lovely treasure fall into the wrong hands. (Yes, it would make a lovely B&B or wedding and Bar Mitzvah venue, but really?) We’ll keep our fingers crossed that this local historic landmark goes to a true domi-phile who will give it the tender loving care it deserves. 

Stemmer House Auction

To take place on the premises: 2627 Caves Road, Owings Mills 21117

Wednesday, August 3

11:00 a.m.

$50,000 deposit required.

For more information: http://realestate.alexcooper.com/featured/

Called to Service? Georgetown Stunner Sets the Tone

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HOT HOUSE: 3053 P Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

In Georgetown, an 1875 Victorian house in a national landmark district, with nine bedrooms, elevator, private garden and 40 foot lap pool: $9,800,000

What: You’ve been given the nod. All that tedious fund-raising has paid off, and now the party/think-tank/consultancy needs you in Washington, D.C., close-at-hand and able to host high-level parties and stuff to impress the foot soldiers, benefactors and celebrity donors. You’re a big personality. A suite at the Watergate won’t do…

This is the place for you: A glamorous dowager empress of a house, standing tall and stately at the corner of 31st and P Street, on Georgetown’s coveted east side.  A jewel in the crown of Georgetown houses, it’s a traditional Victorian mostly, but with a copper Mansard roof that gives it a European aura. French doors in the family room open onto a large terrace overlooking the private garden, adding to the continental charm. Ceilings on the main floor are 13 feet high. The two large drawing rooms are each 28 feet long — you could have cocktails for several hundred people here, without ever feeling crowded. At the same time, the wood paneled library and dining room are perfect for intimate gatherings of like-minded politicos–restrained, yet powerful. The house was once a set for the 1984 film St. Elmo’s Fire and the former owner is the Gatsbyesque Dr. William Haseltine, founder of Human Genome Sciences and seven (!) other successful biotechs. He’s also a philanthropist, a Washington personality and bon vivant. Anyway, from the wine cave to the two bedroom servant’s apartment, this is a house for life-lived-large. Private off-street parking for five to six cars will help. There is a large gym, a spacious master suite with two baths, (seven full and four half-baths in all) as well as the basics of gourmet kitchen (not all that big, but who’s cooking?) hardwood floors throughout, central air, fireplaces.   

Where: 31st and P is on Georgetown’s east side –an easy walk to the Georgetown campus and Dumbarton Oaks.  Nice jogging in Rock Creek Park and the banks of the Potomac. Embassies, shops and restaurants of Georgetown, all right there.

Why: Because your country needs you.

Would suit: Wealthy patron of the arts, intellectual gone over to the business side, business side gone over to government. Michael Bloomberg.

Why Not: No metro in Georgetown (still!), so you’ll have to take a limo over to the White House. Also, with the lap pool, the lot’s too small (.22 acres) for a swing set.

P.S.: Buy it furnished — it’s worth a try.  

Restaurants on the Radar

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I suffer from something I like to call season envy. All winter long, I fantasize about the scent of Coppertone, and just as summer arrives, the thought of a cozy fire becomes appealing. Some people might just call this “general discontent,” but that is for my therapist to work out.

Anyway, it’s hot and muggy here in Baltimore (surprise!), and while most of you are enjoying all that summer offers, I am daydreaming about cooler months ahead: a chill in the air, the smell of burning leaves; I’m wearing new boots, bundling up, and heading out for dinner. Where, you ask? Well, the following yet-to-open restaurants are potential candidates.

Up first: Earth Wood & Fire whose website reads “coal fired pizza and cuisine coming to Baltimore this fall.” Simple enough. Located at the corner of Falls and Clarkview Roads (next to Falls Road Animal Hospital), this new spot looks like it’s going to be much more than a pizza parlor. Its party-vibe Facebook page tells of a buddy-story-turned-business-venture adventure. “Meet the men behind Earth Wood & Fire, Carter Mason, Mark Hofmann, Greg Gunning and John Toomey. They met over a decade ago, on Water St. at happy hour… Over the years they’ve shared a love of food, fun, and good pizza. The opening of Earth Wood & Fire is a dream come true for each of them!” (Can’t you just see them, totally buzzed, drawing out the logo on the back of a napkin?) Their vision appears to be coming along nicely: Mega money likely spent on construction, the new space looks huge! I predict a big bar scene mixed with a fun and lively restaurant space. A younger, more casual Tark’s? If the food delivers, this could be a real winner. 

Next, a stab at the family-friendly market. The Baltimore restaurant powerhouse team Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf are at it again in Roland Park. They are opening their yet-to-be-named eatery in the space that was formerly the Roland Park Deli (around the corner and downstairs from their own Petit Louis). Here, Foreman and Wolf are getting back to their roots with an American menu and wine list. The press release describes the vision for the interior as “lively and bright with several windows and vaulted ceilings,” and “highlighting historic and architectural elements.” I picture a less beachy Coast at Shutter’s. As for “family restaurant” requirements, the layout certainly looks offspring-friendly, as does the promise of accessible pricing (lower than Petit Louis). There’s most certainly a gap in the local market for a well-done place that welcomes kids. Tony & Cindy seemed poised to capitalize on this. My daughter will have the penne pasta with butter, please! The owners expect the as-yet-unnamed restaurant won’t open until the end of the year.  

Does anyone know what is going on at the Valley Inn? We were all thrilled with the news that the venerable Teddy Bauer (of Oregon Grille and Mt. Washington Tavern fame and, oh yeah, he’s also famous for being an All-American lacrosse player) was taking over. Didn’t we all have visions of the faded lady rising like a phoenix from the ashes in his capable hands (or was that just me)? There was the much reported transfer and expansion of the liquor license to Mr. Bauer in December. Since then, witness a whole heap of…nothing. Just Ye Olde Valley Inn. No teams of drywall installers, no kitchen equipment deliveries, no patios being laid (a personal wish). Therefore, the rumors swirl. Are there zoning issues? Building issues? Problems negotiating final details with the original owners? We’ve heard all three. A call to the restaurant provided no answers just a nervous evasiveness. Despite all that, we heard today that the deal is set to close this week. But for now, we can still enjoy Veal Oscar under the glow of a five-watt bulb. Let’s pray that changes soon, although an expectation of a fall opening is really dreaming.

We would be remiss to leave out the three new restaurants slated for the Four Seasons Hotel. Michael Mina, a celebrity chef with restaurants in Las Vegas, L.A. and San Francisco, among other cities, will oversee the main restaurant, Wit and Wisdom, a contemporary tavern serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another restaurant, La Mill, a coffee shop, will serve breakfast and lunch. And Pabu, a dinner-only restaurant, will feature fine Japanese cuisine. 

Doesn’t piping hot miso hit the spot when you’re chilled to the bone? And wearing adorable toffee-shade knee-high boots. Let a sweating reporter daydream.

Do you have the inside skinny on any new restaurants opening this fall? Let us know in the comments.

Modern Architectural Beauty in a Country Setting

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HOT HOUSE: 10801 Longacre Lane, Stevenson, 21153

An architectural classic, mid-century modern, eight bedroom house. 9,189 square feet on 8.7 acres, with pool and tennis court in Stevenson: $2,950,000

What: A long, sleek, white house in poured concrete, built in 1967, and renovated in 2007. It’s a striking example of the ‘international style’, an early form of modernism pioneered in the 1930’s by designers like Robert Nutria, Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer–think “The Fountainhead.”  It’s a design sensibility that sets it well apart from its more traditional neighbors in the Greenspring Valley, but that said, it fits perfectly into its setting, and there’s not a neighbor in sight to detract from the view. A two-story, floor-to-ceiling glass wall at the front of the house overlooks a turquoise pool, heated, with diving board (hooray! a rare treat) and terraces. Skylights on the top floor flood the house with light, which pours through the center atrium, glancing off the marble floors and into the humongous (35’x26’) gourmet kitchen.  With fireplace, marble floors and counters, and high-end appliances, this really is the total A.D. dream kitchen. Also on the main floor are a cozy (hey, it’s all relative) family room with fireplace and wet bar, rec room, library and dining room, both with garden terraces. Tons of bedrooms upstairs, the master bedroom is especially big and stylish, with lots of glass, a luxurious bathroom, walk-in closets/dressing room. The house has six full and three half-baths, four wood-burning fireplaces, and at least one gas fireplace. The garage is attached and heated, the pool house and tennis/games court are ready to go.         

Where: Longacre Road is off of Stevenson Road, off of Greenspring Valley Road, not far from Park Heights Avenue.  The closest shopping is the tiny Stevenson Village but basically, it’s the Reisterstown Road corridor (Trader Joes!). McDonough, Garrison Forest, Krieger Schechter and St. Tim’s are the closest private schools.

Why: The aesthetics, for one.  Houses in this style, of this caliber, are hard to come by around here. And if clean, strong, architectural lines, white walls and light filled rooms are what you love, then it’s a very compelling space. Secondly, the aesthetics. It’s the perfect house for an art collection. The Damian Hirst will look spectacular over the atrium. Then again, almost anything would.  

NB:  Kitchen might be a little intimidating unless you’re a darn good cook.

Also, the usual difficulty with modern houses: avoiding clutter. Where to put all your loved ones’ junk?

Would suit: Major art collector, Howard Roark…

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