St. Paul St. mansion abandons its ghosts and its lonely vigil


January 12, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

We love to attach legends to houses, especially if they are stately and grand and, even better, if they have been abandoned by their barons. Great houses -- big stone Gothic castles, left dark and cold -- encourage ghost stories and myth, sadness and ruin.

So it was with the majestic granite mansion at 4300 St. Paul St. It's the one you see and, if you've an imagination, wonder about just as you turn from North Charles to St. Paul, near Second Presbyterian Church, in Guilford. The house, with more than 20 rooms (including a third-floor ballroom), has been mostly vacant -- and a parochial curiosity -- for at least two decades.

There were many stories about the place. One I heard the other night went like this: The lord and lady of the house had an argument, rose simultaneously from the dinner table, left and never returned. That's myth. But the other stories -- the one about the dining room table being set for years, the one about the three mannequins in the living room (man, woman and boy in preppy ensemble), the one about the 1962 Mercedes parked in the garage -- those are true. And it's also true that the house was designed for a woman, a Mrs. Mary Kennedy, and that all but one of the house's seven owners since 1916 have been women. The mansion's newest owner, Tom Behrle, has the same initials as the last male owner. And when one of his friends pulled a newspaper off a pipe in the basement, Behrle noticed that it was a newspaper of Dec. 30, his date of birth.

All a little strange but true, and fittingly so.

Early last year, the woman who had owned the house for more than 20 years -- and who had rejected many offers for its purchase -- decided to sell it to a neighbor, Sally Michel, who then offered it for sale. Tom Behrle, president of Gladwynne Construction Co., was the winning bidder. His workers have been renovating the place since last summer. It will be the Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House for 1994 and, at long last, full of life again; Behrle and his wife, Colleen Barrett, have three kids.

Roman's curiosity

So I go to this little Formstone-coated place on South Decker Avenue, just off East Baltimore Street. It's called Roman's. A nice guy named Roman Kuzmiw runs it. It's a bar with a dining room in the rear. (The hand-padded fried oysters were delicious, by the way, and the Boh in big bottles.) Of all the decorations in the place, I couldn't help but notice a small silhouette of a golfer in mid-swing, artfully cut

out of aluminum foil and pasted to the woodwork behind the bar, just below the "pain-relief center" holding aspirin. Such a strange thing. I wondered aloud about the name of the artist.

"Grecco," Roman said.


"No, Joe. Joe Grecco."

Motto mix-up

Baltimore: The City That Reads The Sports Page!. . . . City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Superintendent Walter Amprey were among a handful of guests at a "Celebrity Read-In" at Madison Square Elementary School. Before going off to read to classes, the dignitaries, including a state delegate and a city councilwoman, stood to introduce themselves to an audience of about 40 boys in the school library. Annabelle Sher, speaking for the mayor, gave a little pep talk, and reiterated the importance Kurt Schmoke has placed on reading and literacy. Coming to the end of her statement, Sher said: "And Mayor Schmoke really believes in literacy and he has set out his goal that Baltimore one day would be known as the city that . . ." She pointed to the boys to complete the slogan. They replied, in unison: "Gets the ball!"

'Stairway' station break

"Are you calling about the new format?" the woman answering the phone at the radio station asked. "It's going to be announced tomorrow." Format, schmormat, I wasn't calling about that. I had a question: What's with the wall-to-wall John Denver singing "Thank God, I'm A Country Boy" on WVRT-FM (104.3)? Monday the station played "Stairway To Heaven" continuously, until it became "Stairwell To Hell." In case you missed it -- as I did -- Capitol Broadcasting, of North Carolina, bought this station, ye olde Variety 104, to complement its other Baltimore holding, WWMX-FM (106.5). After purging 104.3 of all but two of its employees in December, Capitol set out to purge its remaining listeners, folks who once tuned in for adult contemporary pop. So the company programmed the station to play, without commercial interruption, a few songs ad nauseam, with an announcer telling listeners to turn to 106.5 for variety.

Has it been working? Like I almost care. Anyway, that's the story. WVRT is supposed to get a new identity today.

Marketing twist

Can a neighborhood's rep for great Christmas lights make it more attractive to prospective homebuyers and renters? What's the connection between the number of plastic choir boys and property values? Someone is trying to find out. Here's a recent apartment rental ad: "HAMPDEN, 700 block W. 34th, 'The Block That Celebrates' 1 BR $290-$345 + util."

Warm thoughts

Two words scrawled in the filthy, mud-caked, ice-encrusted rear windows of a Brinks armored truck: "Think Summer."

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