Remember when newlyweds Jenna Bush Hager and husband Henry lived here for ten minutes? Well, Baltimore has been left with a token of its brush with presidential fame. The couple’s cast-off Federal Hill home has been sitting on the market for six months. There is something comforting in the knowledge that being the daughter of the most powerful man in the world does not shield you from the doldrums of a weak housing market.
The three bedroom townhouse is lovely: all charming parts exposed and all yuck parts redone. (Great master bath!) It seems ideally poised to attract Federal Hill seekers: young, upwardly-mobile and…oh, for God sakes, you know who I mean! The real bonuses here might be the “sea-grass rugs and decorative touches.” With Jenna’s resources, they are sure to be the best. One could also assume the security system is top notch. Check out her multi-culti artwork, fabrics and accents. (Click here for pics.) No doubt an aesthetic garnered during her African travels. These worldly touches are well mixed with a fresh decor that speaks to Jenna’s spunky, southern, sorority girl persona (notice the gaggle of requisite “school days” photos). Picture her, a little tipsy, adorably burning the chicken at her first “grown-up” dinner party. You know it happened.
The home at 1345 Charles Street was purchased by the Hagers for $440,000 and is now selling for $449,000. Why the move? Well, the Wall Street Journal reported that perhaps, it was because their bikes were stolen. Um, really? If folks were so easily run out of their homes, no one would live below Lake Avenue. More plausible is the rumor that the couple found Baltimore, shall we say, underwhelming. (I hear she hated it.) That, combined with Jenna’s new Today Show gig made New York a more suitable choice. Luckily, Henry’s job presented no obstacle. He was able to secure a lickety-split transfer to New York with his employer, Constellation Energy. Funny how that works when you are him. Let’s hope that the Hagers are happy in the Big Apple and let’s hope that their former love nest makes a nice home for a new pair of yuppies for a couple of years…until they have a kid and move to Homeland.
HOT HOUSE: 5215 Springlake Way, Baltimore, 21212
Stucco house with stone walls, overlooking the lakes in Homeland plus an additional side lot: $899,000
What: A north Baltimore classic – 1930 center hall Colonial, beautifully landscaped and solidly built. One of Homeland’s top tier homes, with an old-world feeling that comes from the hillside setting and stonework. Formal, good sized living and dining rooms, one on each side of the center hall, with wood floors and crown molding. Pretty sunroom with terrazzo floor and French doors leading out to the gardens. Kitchen at the back is unusually small, but well-designed and appointed with Bosch dishwasher and Wolf range. Breakfast room and butler’s pantry could all be combined and extended into a large kitchen, but as the realtor points out, you would lose the view of a charming, sunny stone patio. Upstairs is a good size master bedroom suite, and the nicely finished third floor would be a great area for kids, with storage and office space. Five bedrooms, three full and two half baths. Grounds are worth a spot on the garden tour, especially a terraced vegetable garden. Two car garage with automatic opener and an attractive cottage-y garden shed. The additional side lot lends privacy as well a luxurious feeling of space. Views of Homelands famous “lakes.”
Where: The heart of Homeland, the neighborhood designed by the Olmstead Brothers in 1924, after Guilford and Roland Park. Homeland is north of Coldspring Land, bordered by Charles Street on the west and York Road on the east.
Why: Nice city living, very much a neighborhood. Tree-lined streets, a short drive to private schools, Belvedere Square, Charles Street and Roland Park shops.
Why Not: Homeland has strict neighborhood standards. If you’re thinking about growing a meadow or owning large numbers of dogs/cats, this is not the place for you.
Would Suit: law-abiding executive family, gardeners, Europeans.
Confession: We’ve gone cuckoo for Chinoiserie. (You know Chinoiserie, it’s an art style reflecting Chinese influence–embracing elaborate decoration and intricate patterns.) Chinoiserie accessories include wall art, lamps, rugs, fabric and furniture. Our biggest obsession: hand-painted Chinese wall panels. DeGournay and Gracie offer the loveliest. (Pictured, De Gournay in Portobello.)
Chinoiserie wall scenes depict trees, flowers and birds in garden landscapes, classic Chinese village life, mythical settings and images reminiscent of 18th century France.
Dating back to the 19th century, the wallpaper has been used by royal families and European aristocrats for decoration of their palaces and castles. But you don’t have to be a crowned head (or a newly crowned princess) to afford these luscious panels. Online resources offer single framed panels that don’t require a note on your home as deposit. Our disclaimer: “Buy the best and you will only cry once.” (Good advice from the iconic Miles Redd.)
Designers and fashion superstars who have used Gracie and De Gournay: Baltimore’s Billy Baldwin, Dorothy Draper,Tony Duquette, Bunny Williams, Katie Ridder, Victoria Hagan, Aerin Lauder, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anna Sui, to name-drop a few…
No one asked us our opinion, but we thought we’d weigh in anyway on the nine proposals before the Baltimore Development Corporation for attractions to increase interest in the Inner Harbor, that tarnished old Baltimore jewel. Descriptions below compiled from The Baltimore Sun —
Beach volleyball courts on Rash Field.
* * * * * Love the simplicity. Inexpensive and green too! Volleyball tourneys are sure to attract a crowd.
Eighteen-hole miniature golf course on Rash Field.
* * Miniature golf is good clean fun for the family, but it can be riff-raff-y for teenagers and young adults. And is miniature golf something that will really motivate adults on date night to head to the Inner Harbor?
A 200-foot “observation wheel” at the end of Pier 5.
* * * * This is a Ferris wheel, plain and simple. Although we love the classic silhouette of a Ferris wheel along the sky, we’ve all been on Ferris wheels and a bigger one won’t get the crowds to the Inner Harbor. Isn’t the pro trapeze school nearby enough carnival juice for one tourist-y urban setting? We’d favor this more if there weren’t better proposals to consider.
A 27-seat “trackless” train from the Inner Harbor’s north shore to the carousel near the Maryland Science Center and Rash Field.
* * * A nice alternative, especially on a hot, humid Baltimore summer day, but ultimately not enough pizzazz.
A trampoline, a 200-foot “observation wheel,” a carousel and miniature golf course, as well as facilities for wall climbing, rappelling and slides, among other things, for Rash Field, West Shore Park and other areas.
* * Sounds like PlayLand.
Sky trail rope course, location unspecified.
* * * A little dull. Lukewarm.
The aerophare between Harborplace’s Light Street Pavilion and the Baltimore Visitor Center.
* * * * * This unusual “flying lighthouse” offering panoramic views of the city is getting the most buzz and for good reason. We have no idea what it is! We’re already curious! Deemed Baltimore’s smaller version of the Eiffel Tower by the project’s developer.
An aerial tram ride and zip line from Federal Hill to the Baltimore Visitor Center.
* * * * This gondola lift-like air tram poses the biggest threat to the aerophare. Sounds like fun and unusual enough for visitors and to try on your own.
A variety of activities, including a 60-foot tower for rock climbing, zip lines, a three-person giant swing, kayak tours or land-based scavenger tours and a “team building” center. Terrapin proposes to use Rash Field, West Shore Park and the waterside plaza in front of the Maryland Science Center.
* * Okay, you lost us at “team building center.” Sounds like a work seminar.
Which is your favorite?
For residents and neighbors in the Ruxton/Riderwood area, reopening of the Robert E. Lee Park, 454 acres of beautiful wooded land with Lake Roland as it’s heart, is a long-awaited event. The park has been officially closed since fall of 2009, to allow work on the main bridge that crosses the dam. But behind the scenes, a lot of people have been working hard to restore Robert E. Lee Park (one of the largest parks in Baltimore County) to its former glory and rightful place among the most beautiful open spaces in the area.
Interestingly, the most significant aspect of the park reopening will take place only on paper. In 2009, Baltimore County took over management of the park from Baltimore City in a no-cost 50 year lease, automatically renewable for another 50 years. Similar successful arrangements already exist, including a lease between Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County for Fort Smallwood Park, and between Baltimore City and Baltimore County for Cromwell Bridge Park.
Beahta Davis is the area coordinator of nature and recreation resources for the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Department. She explained the county’s reasons for the takeover of the Robert E. Lee Park and the much needed improvements. “We saw it as a hidden gem that was underutilized” she said in an interview with the Baltimore Daily Record last fall. Our “mission is to revitalize what exists and to add to it in terms of recreational activities”.
A bit of history
While the Robert E. Lee Park is located entirely within Baltimore County, it was until recently owned and operated by the City of Baltimore. Originally constructed in 1861 by damming the Jones Falls, the park served as a water source not only for city residents, but for Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel county residents for 53 years, until it was determined that the water quantity was insufficient. Since 1914, the park has been used as a recreational facility managed by Baltimore City. By the 1990’s City budgets were simply too stretched to pay for proper oversight and maintenance, and in recent years, the property was allowed to deteriorate to the point where people were found actually living in the park. In addition, soil samples revealed dangerously toxic levels of e-coli bacteria due to dog feces.
As a result of the takeover by Baltimore County, $6.1 million in state and county funding was obtained for improvements determined to be necessary for the safety and preservation of the park. These improvements include rebuilding of the bridge, improving parking and Light Rail access to the park, restoration of walking and biking trails, and shoring up the banks of the reservoir, which had severely eroded. In addition, a one-acre, enclosed, off-leash dog walking facility is planned. Security will be provided by Baltimore County police. While the $6.1 million will cover the cost of all of the initial improvements, is hoped that voluntary contributions by residents and neighbors, as well as monthly event programming, will help to offset costs of park maintenance and stewardship.
In October of 2010, members of the already existing Riderwood/Ruxton/ Lake Roland Area Improvement Association and other volunteers formed the Robert E. Lee Park Nature Center (RELPNC), and began monthly meetings under the leadership of Peter Maloney, President. A Community Plan for the park was officially adopted by the Baltimore County Council, reinforcing the commitment on both sides to working closely together to run the park. Volunteers at the Nature Council will work closely with the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks on improving and maintaining key areas of the park, and will begin a membership drive in Fall 2011 through Spring 2012.
Jeff Budnitz, Treasurer of the Nature Council, and an early supporter of the Robert E. Lee Park revitalization efforts, credits the hard work of many individuals for the success of the park take over, including Baltimore County councilman (now County Executive) Kevin Kamentetz, for his “tremendous advocacy of the park, including the establishment of new RC7 zoning” to prevent the selling of park land for development. “The county put together the budget” says Budnitz, “and everything that was committed to is being done. A long term Master Plan is being developed, to be accomplished in multiple phases. We are completing phase I now, and there will have to be public input going forward”.
What’s on the table? Very likely, a multiple-use facility with easy access from the Baltimore Light Rail, that will include boating, biking, trail-walking, educational programming, a child’s play area and dog walking. Robert E. Lee is a “passive” park, which typically means no lighted athletic fields, no swimming pool, and no tennis courts, among other things. While the definition of “passive park” often includes no dog walking, there are plans to include an enclosed off-leash dog walking area at Robert E. Lee, possibly open only to members, for a nominal annual fee. Eventually, playing fields may be added. Overall, the park improvements promise a big leap forward in quality of life in the Baltimore area.
Local reactions? Surprisingly positive
We questioned local residents and park neighbors about the changes, and got a uniformly enthusiastic response – even on the potentially touchy issue of voluntary private funding to supplement the initial Baltimore County investment.
“If you care about your community, you need to be willing to get behind it” says Chris Feiss. “I can see bald eagles flying over the lake from my backyard, and that’s got to be worth something to me”. Cheryl Finney, another park neighbor, agrees. Although the park has generally been a good neighbor, Finney cites occasional problems in past years of trash and off-leashed dogs making the northwestern peninsula occasionally unpleasant. “I am a believer in private involvement and ownership of issues relating to community” Finney states. Asked how much she would be willing to contribute, she says “I’m not sure, but I’m willing to listen. I’d love to see the public use the park more, and it definitely deserves stewardship”.
The specific financial goals of the Nature Council are still being determined. Jeff Budnitz points out, “You have to have a pretty solid plan before you ask for the money. We are almost there”. According to Beahta Davis, “the Nature Council is in the driver’s seat with this,” referring to both the fundraising and planning for park programming and maintenance . The hope, everyone agrees, is to eventually be largely self-sufficient.
The official reopening of Robert E. Lee Park is tentatively scheduled for September, 2011. Stay tuned for further updates and opening day activities.
Hot House: 1022 Saint Georges Road, Baltimore, 21210
Storybook stone lodge/compound on 3.5 acres in North Roland Park: $2,195,000
What: Built in 1900, a Tudor style estate home, a hunting lodge in the city. Owned by recently deceased prominent attorney H. Morton “Mort” Rosen, who clearly loved to entertain. Formal living and dining rooms on the first floor are impressive — masculine but still warm-feeling, with a wood-paneled library, sun room and eat-in kitchen. Downstairs, a second catering kitchen and giant oak-paneled, timber-ceilinged great room, with huge fireplace and French doors out to the garden. Awesome gathering space for big groups of family/friends. Five bedrooms, four full baths. Could use a little updating, mainly cosmetic, as the place has been scrupulously cared for. The grounds are landscaped and lovely, private and partly wooded. Surprising that there’s no pool, although plenty of space for one.
Where: at the end of a long private lane on St. Georges Road–one of north Baltimore’s most beautiful streets. Nice for walking, and good access to Roland Park amenities, private schools, post office, grocery and Starbucks.
Why: One of a kind, extremely private home in the city. Masterful stonework outside and no-expense-spared details inside all done with great taste.
Why not: House is a little dark, although views of the sunny, landscaped grounds are nice.
Would suit: City lovers who need their own space. Don Corleone.
Hot House: 117 Beechdale Road, Baltimore, 21210
Classic Victorian, all systems go, in the heart of Roland Park:
What: A beautifully renovated Victorian, circa 1905 — that rare Roland Park house with everything in perfect working order –no peeling paint, no clanking radiators, and insulation! A recent and total makeover, which included central air as well as all new windows and doors, has transformed this house into a high quality home with major curb appeal. From the welcoming porch, a gracious foyer leads to a generously proportioned living and dining rooms, both with wood burning fireplaces (think winter dinner parties in front of a glowing fire). Sunny windows draw you straight through to the back of the house, where a brand new custom cook’s kitchen promises a lifetime of great eating and big windows look up towards the big back yard, complete with big old trees and tasteful play area. Sleek but practical mudroom is a bonus. Upstairs, luxurious master bed and bath, walk-in closets and additional pretty bedrooms offer period touches like built in cupboards and polished wood floors. A nicely finished basement is now and would be, perfect for kids. Side driveway with parking pad a plus, as is easy access to Rt. 83.
Where: Between Falls Road and Roland Avenue, near the old Baltimore Country Club golf course. Walk to Eddie’s, walk to schools, walk to Petit Louis. Roland Park is in northwest Baltimore, a historic neighborhood designed by the Olmstead architectural firm (NY Central Park) – a ten minute drive to downtown.
Why: A wide wraparound porch, great landscaping with a show-stopping planting of hostas in front, and modern, south-facing kitchen overlooking the terraced back yard – and all above-mentioned mod cons.
Why not: House sits up off the street, so requires some stair taking unless you’re first to the parking pad.
Would suit: Old house family who (heart) City Life, but not the hassles of city living.
Along Bellona Avenue this week signs objecting to the Sheppard Pratt mental health residential treatment home sprouted along the road. The signs direct readers to the website for Neighbors Against the Sheppard Pratt Hotel which has over 230 Facebook likes. While opposition is mounting, the hospital completed the sale last week and plans to go forward with opening the six-bedroom home on LaBelle Avenue. Like it or not, there is little residents can do: Sheppard Pratt’s proposal is protected by federal and state housing laws.