Tiptoeing on Tulip Path revives the pastoral vision of Roland Park DOWN MEMORY LANE

May 02, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

On Blackberry Lane and Tulip Path, on Sunset Lane and Squirrel Path, the paradox that is Roland Park becomes splendidly apparent.

These, and the many other pastoral rights of way that lace the shady Baltimore neighborhood, are redolent of the English countryside. Hilly, rustic and now bursting with the spicy fragrance of spring, the paths refer to a simple, idyllic vision of village life. But the mansions and the majestic grounds that border Roland Park's network of paths and service lanes speak as well of an elite lifestyle.

Tomorrow, Baltimore Heritage, a non-profit preservation group, will sponsor a walking tour called "Planning the Picturesque: Roland Park at 100," as part of its Baltimore by Foot walking tour series. Participants can discover for themselves how Roland Park's verdant paths and lanes afford an insider's view of the select universe created by founder Edward Bouton and the Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm.

Carefully bordered by schools and churches to buffer it from outside intrusion, the planned community was marketed by its developer as a cool refuge from Baltimore City and its contagions. Like a secret within a secret, the lanes and paths that follow Roland Park's rolling topography were built exclusively for residents. Today, they're open to anyone looking for a pretty place to walk.

"People from the outside [were] not supposed to find their way in," says Claire Williams, a landscape architect and board member of Friends of Maryland's Olmsted Parks & Landscapes (FMOPL). Ms. Williams and Sandra Sparks, past president of FMOPL, will lead tomorrow's walking tour.

The system of narrow, rustic pedestrian paths was designed by John Charles Olmsted and his younger stepbrother, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. The sylvan thruways reflected the landscaping theories of their legendary father, Frederick Law Olmsted, "concerning division of circulation, creation of public zones and framed views, and expeditious movement in residential communities," writes architectural historian Roberta Moudry in a master's thesis that examines the early planning of Roland Park.

"[Edward] Bouton believed these paths were necessary for the comfort and convenience of the residents and certainly, in the days before the auto became common place, these short cuts sped the business man's journey from home to trolley," Ms. Moudry writes. "The system of paths and lanes, or service alleys, was barely visible from the roadways, but Bouton identified them as passages and as distinct spaces with names and signs."

"What I think is so wonderful about Roland Park," says Ms. Moudry, "is that the paths are a visible example of the kind of thought that went into a whole environment for the community -- to have certain paths for vehicles and people but also paths just for the pedestrians. Those paths really weave the whole area together," she says.

The path and trail system also "takes a small amount of acreage and expands it greatly because you can move around in so many ways," Ms. Moudry says.

Last year's Centennial Celebration of Roland Park marked the restoration of the lanes and paths after years of neglect. In past decades, when the Roland Park Roads and Maintenance Corp., founded in 1908, was financially unable to support path upkeep, there was "very little in the way of corrective upgrading work or really any capital improvement," says Dr. Anthony Pinto, vice president for maintenance for the corporation.

Generally, the trails were haphazardly groomed if at all by residents living adjacent to the paths who brought pruning shears along when they walked their dogs. "They had deteriorated to the point where they were used by people who knew about them and needed to use them, and avoided by people who didn't want to walk down dark, overgrown passageways," Dr. Pinto says.

Some of the lanes "fell off the face of the earth," including Audley End, named for a castle in Great Britain, he says. A path and lane guide printed in the 1970s misidentified many of the rights of way because the original signs and maps had deteriorated as well, Dr. Pinto says.

When the 1980s real estate boom struck and Roland Park homes were getting handsome make-overs, "We decided it needed to be done," Dr. Pinto says. "We sat back and looked at paths that were still used and tried to figure which ones needed the most work." Today, a landscape firm contracted by the roads and maintenance corporation keeps the lanes and paths clear of overgrowth. New wooden signs, graced with a signature rosette -- designed by Dr. Pinto -- and shiny brass lettering mark the threshold of many of the paths.

Sunset Path was one of the most deteriorated paths as well as one of the best traveled routes through Roland Park, used by locals to get to the Roland Park Country Club and by students making their way to Falls Road. The path, which borders Rusty Rocks, where Mr. Bouton once lived, has been repaved in stone.

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