Amid urban hubbub, a pocket of seclusion

January 23, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

The sight of a red fox caught Susan Patry by surprise as she walked her dog in Original Northwood the other night. "I was just flabbergasted," she said.

While one could hardly call the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood a nature preserve, there is a secluded feel. Both the layout of the neighborhood and its towering trees seem to give it shelter from the stress of the city.

"It's a nice little residential oasis in the middle of a lot of hustle and bustle," says Frank Gorman, a 51-year-old lawyer who has lived there for two decades.

An eclectic neighborhood that emphasizes community activism, Original Northwood was developed by the Roland Park Co. -- the Baltimore real estate development and management firm that created Roland Park, Homeland and Guilford.

Most of the neighborhood's 368 homes are stately brick Colonials, stone Tudors or classic townhouses built in the 1930s, as the development company had planned. But construction stalled during World War II.

In the post-war period, when housing picked up, the balance of Original Northwood was filled out with less-expensive brick townhouses and semidetached homes.

Today, Original Northwood is a stable, racially integrated community within greater Northwood, which includes Ednor Gardens, Lakeside and a dozen smaller communities.

At the low end of the spectrum, a homebuyer can purchase a townhouse in Original Northwood for between $80,000 and $120,000, says Joseph Clisham, an agent with Chase Fitzgerald in Roland Park. Single-family homes, he said, go from $110,000 to a high of $200,000. At the highest end are a few grand Georgian or Colonial houses.

The original houses, in particular, were embellished with such features as slate roofs, elaborate fireplace mantels and crafted millwork, including fancy crown moldings.

The houses are durable, built with thick plaster walls strengthened by the use of horsehair, Mr. Gorman said. A phone line installer who came to the home a few years ago was astonished by the width of the wall and had to make a couple of visits back to his truck for a longer drill bit, Mr. Gorman recalls.

There is pride in the community's architecture -- reinforced with covenants established by the Roland Park Co.

Some of the original covenants are now considered laughable -- like the prohibition against goat grazing or fat-rendering plants on the properties. But those that still apply are taken seriously by the leaders of the Original Northwood Association.

A recent copy of the group's newsletter, for example, discusses the proper architectural style for gutters and downspouts used in the neighborhood.

"The majority of people who move into the neighborhood are aware of the covenants, and they don't try to fight the association," says Ms. Patry, a 31-year-old office manager for a downtown law firm.

Ms. Patry, a single woman who moved to Original Northwood six years ago and serves as the community association's vice president, says the most debated architectural guideline involves roof replacement. After protests from some homeowners who were unwilling to pay the high cost of slate, the association drafted guidelines to permit certain high-grade asphalt shingles.

Just as they are zealous about protecting their architecture, so do Original Northwood owners guard their trees, which include enormous elms and several varieties of oaks, including a few that are more than 200 years old. A committee was designated to inoculate the elms for Dutch elm disease each year.

"Trees provide beautiful buffers," said John Geist, president of the Original Northwood Association and a 28-year community resident. "They make you feel like you're in much more of a suburban than city setting."

Gardens, too, hold a special place in Original Northwood. A favorite event of many residents is the annual spring "Garden Walk," a neighborhood tour of family gardens.

Because the area was once a heavily wooded estate, the soil is acid -- perfect for azaleas, an Original Northwood favorite. Long-timers, especially, take seriously the nurturing of these and other flowers.

"When you buy a house here, you'd better be ready to work in the yard," said Kay Lietzau, an active member of the neighborhood's 60-year-old garden club, who moved to Original Northwood in 1971. "There is a lot of established shrubbery and gardens, and you'll want to keep the value of your property up."

The community is mostly a mix of long-timers with grown children, like Mrs. Lietzau, who moved in two or more decades ago, and young dual-income professional couples who arrived more recently. There are also a few original owners, now well into their senior years, who are so rooted that they would rather not move.

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