Neighborhoods

A Steal in Bolton Hill

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HOT HOUSE: 143 West Lanvale Street, Baltimore 21217

Large, Victorian-era townhouse with stone exterior, restored, in Bolton Hill: $524,900  

What: For anyone who loves upscale city living, this elegant, updated 1880’s townhouse is the answer to a dream. Bolton Hill is probably the most beautiful neighborhood in Baltimore, with a nice mix of residents and a true neighborhood feel. Quieter in the summer, when the nearby MICA students leave, it is an immanently walkable, visually-pleasing place to live. The house at 143 West Lanvale Street is spacious and comfortable, with wood floors and crown molding throughout.  Everything recently restored, including all systems. It features a gourmet cooks kitchen with granite breakfast bar and an extraordinary master bedroom suite which comprises the entire third floor and has French doors opening onto a pretty deck with south-facing views of the city.  Amenities include a steam shower, soaking tub, and covered back porch which overlooks a sweet urban garden. Zoned central air, and at least two wood-burning fireplaces, including one in the master suite. In Manhattan, this would be a $10 million house (just with better shopping). 

Where: West Llanvale Street is in the heart of Bolton Hill, with easy access to Penn Station and the MARC train. B bistro is where it’s at restaurant-wise, with a few sandwich and coffee shops within easy reach.  

Why: Because you can feel rich, without being rich.  Bolton Hill, and this house, were built on a grand scale for the wealthy occupants of Baltimore in its heyday. The period details and beautiful, solid construction will be there long after you’re gone–it’s your place in history.

Why Not: The olive-colored bathroom tile, may not be to everyone’s taste. Neighbor points out “leave anything valuable on your car seat, it will get stolen.”

Would Suit: City-oriented couple, old house enthusiasts, urban family who for $500 can join the neighborhood’s beloved Bolton Hill pool and tennis club 


Stemmer House: Secret Garden and Storied Past

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Can a house make you strive to be your “best self” (thanks for that parting gift Oprah)? Well, if ever there was a possibility, “Stemmer House,” an estate selling in Owings Mills, might just be that place. It is in equal parts aspiration and inspiration. It will take an uncommon breed to continue its captivating history.

 

Okay, first aspiration: The estate includes 27 acres, private guest house, too many gardens to count, two barns, stables, fenced pasture, pool, pond with gazebo, pair of swans and their new cygnets, five peacocks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Check out the listing here, not exactly, “You can do it, Home Depot can help!” The beautiful main house was built on Philadelphia Road in 1781 by Ulrich Stemmer and moved (always a wonder) to its current location in 1930. Local legend holds that Ulrich was a pirate and his wife haunts the house, embittered by the discovery of a second family in the West Indies. At least she has a lovely backdrop for her eternal melodrama. 

The inspiration comes from the extraordinary woman, Barbara Holdridge, who has owned Stemmer House since 1973. Barbara has that certain “NPR story” aura that I always associate with an accomplished, intellectual, arts-based life. She is someone whom you admire and for good reason. At the ripe old age of 22, Barbara and a college friend, Marianne Roney, pioneered the audio book industry. They started Caedmon Records founded on their new idea of recording authors reading their own work. The gals had some luck when they convinced the often drunk poet Dylan Thomas to do the first recording. The fifties weren’t a great time for a pair of young girls to start a business (this was pre-Mad Men for Lord sake!) — there were rejections at the hands of bankers and landlords alike. Barbara and Co. persevered, driven by “recreating the moment of inspiration,” as they called it. In the end, success was granted and Caedmon was sold in 1972 with recordings by the likes of Tennessee Williams, Ogden Nash, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot and William Faulkner, to name a few giants. (Hemingway declined to record for fear that his voice was too high.) During these years, Holdridge became a wife to Lawrence, an equally accomplished, self-taught engineer (how do you do that exactly?) and a mother to twin girls. Barbara’s Chapter 2 used the newly purchased Stemmer House as a canvas for her great passions. Her signature drive was alive and well. The house has been beautifully restored in pain-staking period detail (at a cost of about a $1,000,000, Holdridge estimates). The large front hall is particularly striking, as is the library, which should surprise no one. In pursuing a love of American folk art, she amassed a collection that has traveled to several leading museums and is credited for discovering the noted artist, Ammi Phillips. Barbara’s award-winning gardens at Stemmer House are extensive and magnificent (check out below in our video landing). They have been featured in garden tours and several books. A well-lived life indeed.

In all the many articles about Stemmer House there is no “Lady of the Manor” slant, praising Holdridge’s beautiful clothes or fabulous parties (although I am sure she could have had both). Perhaps it is because there is just so much more to talk about. Barbara Holdridge is a woman of substance and that is perfectly reflected in her much-loved home. Now 80, Mrs. Holdridge has decided to sell, “too many steps,” she says. I hope whoever buys “Stemmer House” accepts that it may be haunted by two ghosts; one an angry wife and one an accomplished woman who inspires them to be more.

Picturesque Monkton

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HOT HOUSE: 16835 Gerting Rd,  Monkton 20111 

Shaker-style low-country farmhouse, with Amish barn and guesthouse, designed and built by local architects.  10 acres of paddocks and 65+ acres of wooded land in My Lady’s Manor: $2,395,000

What: Built in 2000, and designed by Faith Nevins Hawks, this is a stunning home in its own right, currently listed in the New York Times Great Homes and Destinations.  The façade is at once impressive and disarming, with a second-story, screened ‘sleeping porch’ that offers panoramic vistas over rolling countryside. The rooms are airy and well proportioned, uniting traditional and modern in quintessential Shaker manner. Five bedrooms, three and a half baths, with a lovely master bedroom suite and that amazing porch upstairs offer comfort.  Nice kitchen/great room as well as cozy, more formal dining room on the ground floor make for great family hang out space.  Marble baths, cherry floors, built-ins, crunching pea-gravel entrance and paths, perfect gardens —everything to a very high standard. But it is largely about the horses here in My Lady’s Manor, and the Amish-built barn that houses the stables is  a cathedral to equine culture.  Pristine and serene, with sunlight weaving through the vaulted wooden beams, the workmanship competes only with the bucolic setting and the horses themselves for attention.  Inside: six stalls, post and beam construction and heated tack room.  When you’re not out in the barn or riding on the 65+ acres, you can work-out in the house gym, swim in the pool or visit the chickens in their custom coop. 

Where: Follow York Road all the way north to the tiny village of Monkton, about 10 miles north of Shawan Road. Nearest landmark is the bike crossing at the NCR trail. 

Why: ecause you love to breed, race or ride horses, or love someone who does. Also, because you appreciate the Shaker aesthetic,  “’tis a gift to be simple.” Here, it’s all about the luxury of fine design and materials, as opposed to giant columns and acres of granite.

Why Not: “Goodbye, city life!” For an urban or suburbanite, this location is pretty far out there.  Forget to pick up the milk, and you’ve got a good long haul ahead of you, unless the picturesque little store in tiny Monkton village happens to be open. Good new is, your only 10 miles from Dover Saddlery, and 4 miles to the Manor Tavern, the local watering hole. 

Would suit: Stylish but serious horseman.   


 

Jenna Bush’s House Sits on the Market

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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.

Homeland on the Lakes

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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.

Aerophare No Match for Reality of the Inner Harbor…

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Two Sundays ago, we met some friends from Charlottesville at the Inner Harbor. They were in Baltimore to help their son, a college junior, find housing for an internship with the Orioles this summer.
They arrived on Saturday with only five hours to follow up on all leads gathered before coming to Baltimore. They weren’t about to miss a minute of an O’s game. They went to several places in Federal Hill. They went to Fells’ Point. They were headed to Bolton Hill, when they sent a message to the woman whom they planned to meet on Eutaw Place. She sent a message back asking them to come a half an hour later than planned. She said she needed to go add minutes to her phone card.
The father of the college student is a psychiatrist. His business is understanding people. The message about the phone card sent up a flag in his mind. He tried to withhold judgment. Fifteen minutes later she sent him a second message, but this message was intended for someone else. In it she said she’d gotten more credit and asked where she should hide “the stuff.”
At that point the father sent a message cancelling the appointment. He also sent another message to his older son, a fanatic of “The Wire.”. 
We can try to add an “aerophare” and other attractions to the Inner Harbor, but it’s hard to erase the reality of surrounding Baltimore. 

"Bloomfield’s" Pedigree and Beauty

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An unmistakable sign that you have entered Maryland horse country, “Bloomfield” sits at the corner of Tufton and Greenspring Avenues. It is as quintessentially “blue blood shabby” as you would expect. The boxes are all checked:historic significance, pedigree and beauty. Can’t you just picture an idyllic post Hunt Cup party here? Gin flowing and headbands all askew? Quick, someone call Slim Aarons!
Bloomfield started life in 1780 as a new pad in the New World for Samuel Worthington. His land holdings covered all of, you guessed it, the Worthington Valley. The house was built with the imported bricks of his disassembled English home (ties to England – check). In the 1920s, Bloomfield was purchased by the Vanderbilt family for their dear boy, Alfred, on his 21st birthday (American royalty – check). Alas, Alfred found his gift lacking (spoiled brat!). Having grown up among the Gatsbyesque mansions of Long Island, he had bigger plans. These manifested themselves in the construction of the imposing “Rolling Ridge” next door (another story for another day, darling). The house was then sold to the Parr family whose patriarch was the president of the Maryland Jockey Club (equestrian affiliation – check). Over the years Bloomfield has been home to raucous parties, tempestuous marriages, cock fighting, divorces and plenty of general W.A.S.P. dysfunction (lets face it, no one checks these off, but they always exist). All of this brings a patina very specific to houses of this type. The true beauty of the home, however, has always been its situation among boundless bucolic perfection. Ah, the views. Today, those views are of the neighboring “Sagamore Farms,” which has recently been brought back to grandeur by Under Armour’s Kevin Plank. How nice then to live at Bloomfield and enjoy all that loveliness without the expense of refurbishing and maintaining Sagamore (reportedly in excess of $15 million and growing). Bloomfield has just been sold to a lovely young couple from a lovely old family who are said to have an affinity for horse racing. Let’s hope they know how to throw a good party…and invite me.

Rating the Inner Harbor Attractions

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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?

Robert E. Lee Park: Moving To the County From the City

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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. 

New funding

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.

 

Country Feel in City Limits

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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.

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