Hot House: 703 Abell Ridge Circle, Towson, MD 21204
Historic Beaux Arts mansion, formerly the Ridge School, in yellow brick with terra cotta trim and slate roof, circa 1892. Thirteen thousand square feet over three stories, with 6 bedrooms, 5 full and 3 half baths. Grand entrance hall, circular oak staircase, gourmet kitchen, media room, exercise room, luxe master suite. Original crown moldings, pocket doors and shutters, ten fireplaces, hardwood floors, partially finished basement, central a/c on 1.5 acres: $3,890,000
What: A $1 million renovation. Baltimore Sun founder Arunah Abell’s Beaux Arts “country” mansion is handsome and compellingly grandiose — and in 2002, developer Marc Munafo and his wife Victoria began an exceptionally well-done renovation of this architecturally significant Baltimore County home. Built in 1892, Abell himself was closely involved in its design, working almost daily with Baltimore architects Baldwin & Pennington to create a house known initially as Sherwood Park, and later, The Ridge. He had one summer there before his death in 1893. In 1955, the Abells donated the house to the county and it became the Ridge School for disabled children. Munafo, owner of CAM Construction, bought it for $2.2 million when the school relocated to Charles Street, and has lived here with his family since renovation was completed. It’s the only Beaux Arts house left in Baltimore County, although there are several of note in the city, and it’s full of period swags, balconies, carvings, mirrors and medallions.
The amount of research and historic restoration here is staggering. Tons of school equipment had to be removed in order to begin. Every inch of lead- paint-covered, fantastically detailed wood trim was scraped off by hand. Pocket doors were rehabbed. Unusual interior pocket shutters were discovered and restored at enormous expense. Stained glass was cleaned and sometimes replaced. Original marble bathooms were recreated and modernized. Grand mirrors, once covered in black paint. were scraped, cleaned and re-gilded. Above the bedroom windows are small transoms, to help with air flow. Each transom operator has been restored. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps the house’s best feature is a widow’s walk, at a dizzying 61 feet above the ground, with 360 degree views and a nice breeze. You can see down to the harbor from here, north to Cockeysville and over to the St. Paul’s School. At night, Baltimore looks like Los Angeles, sprawling and twinkling.
Where: Abell Ridge Circle is a recently gated cul-de-sac with several new custom homes in addition to the Abell mansion, and more to be built as the lots sell. It sits well above street level on the north side of Joppa Road, just west of Charles Street. Easy access to I-83 and the beltway by way of Bellona Avenue. Joppa Road takes you right into downtown Towson. Close by are the Shops at Kenilworth. Also the Shops at Ruxton Village, including Graul’s Market.
Who: Captain of industry/technology
Why: Beautiful restoration, meticulously researched and sensitively done, with no expense spared. Big old houses are almost never this luxurious or comfortable.
Why Not: No trees. The property cries out for some big, spreading shade trees to soften the yellow brick, the street view, and to block out the new homes – not to mention the sun.
NB: House is made of hydraulic (pressed) brick in an unusual yellow color that it is hard to warm up to.
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