Split by geography, united by concern

February 27, 1994|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,Contributing Writer

Overlea is a neighborhood of contradictions.

The Baltimore City-Baltimore County line runs right through it -- with higher-priced homes on one side and higher tax bills on the other. Belair Road, busy and noisy and lined with stores, runs through the neighborhood, too.

Yet most of the neighborhood is quiet and quaint, more like a small town than a big city.

There are a variety of homes -- bungalows and redbrick ranchers, Colonials and Victorians -- as well as a variety of people: elderly and couples with children, artists and military people.

Yet there is a strong neighborhood association, which publishes a newsletter on the local goings-on.

According to Overlea Community Association president Joe Groves, the group started the area's first community recycling program several years ago, which became a model for others; blocked the development of new homes on a parcel of private land; and fought to shut down a liquor store described as "an eyesore."

"It's a close, stable community," says David Liebman, for 11 years the owner of Kaye's Pharmacy, located on Belair Road for more than half a century.

"We'll have one patient in, and two or three others will walk in, and they'll all know each other."

The home office of Rosedale Federal Bank, and Overlea Catering -- a family-owned company since 1958 that employs about of 200 ZTC -- are the most visible businesses here. Residents also frequent the Overlea Diner for Sunday breakfast and the family-owned Della Rose's for Friday-night dinners.

Overlea was founded in 1880 by German farmers. At the turn of the century, the neighborhood was primarily farmland with no public water and no streetlights. Belair Road was unpaved.

The trolley came in 1904, and on weekends, parties of downtown Baltimore socialites rode the single-track trolley car to the end of the line at Kenwood Avenue for 50-cent chicken dinners and 10-cent trout sandwiches.

After the trolley started running, the village began to grow. In 1926, Belair Road was widened to 80 feet with the trolley in middle. The trolley stopped running in 1963, and in the late 1980s the neighborhood received an overhaul, with new sidewalks, curbs and trees along a 2-mile stretch of Belair Road.

Today, the neighborhood group is trying to renovate and restore the Victorian look to the old Overlea Trolley Station, which still serves bus riders. The project will cost about $50,000 -- to be split among the county, the Mass Transit Administration and the neighborhood association.

A decade ago, Overlea's population was aging; few children lived here. But there's been an influx of young families over the past five years.

The old-town appeal of Overlea attracts an eclectic assortment of artisans and businesspeople who ply their trades from roomy homes that are easily renovated to accommodate studios and offices.

Kathy Schuetz, a member of the Potters' Guild of Baltimore, fires functional stoneware in the two-story garage behind her Chesley Avenue home, from which she and her husband, Carl, a graphic designer, run their desktop publishing and public relations business.

The couple's joint office space is a summer kitchen, a glass-enclosed enclave off the second floor of the spacious four-bedroom home that once was two apartments. From their vantage point, they look out on Overlea and also keep a close watch on 11-year-old Alex and 8-year-old Erica, both of whom walk to school at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Belair Road.

"I think more people are doing this," Mrs. Schuetz says, "making themselves more available to their families while working from home. It seems like we have a lot of creative types within a three-block radius, all who have studios out of their homes: a watercolorist also on Chesley, an illustrator on Northern Parkway, and a photographer and graphic designer on Walnut Avenue."

"We're all friends and all do things socially," says Mr. Schuetz. "We weren't even looking to move when we found this place eight years ago." The couple had just finished renovating a house in Hamilton before they moved.

Part of the lure was the size and affordability of the house -- even taking into account the higher city property taxes shouldered by his side of the neighborhood.

"In the past, county taxes were considerably lower," says Mr. Groves, who lives on Chesley Avenue just within the city limits, "but now they're getting closer together."

The Schuetz family has a yard full of mature peach, apple, pear, cherry, plum and fig trees. An added bonus are the prolific horseradish plants, says Mr. Schuetz: "It's great on oysters."

The Schuetzes describe the neighborhood as one where people pitch in when there's a need and know their neighbors. Six years ago, the Schuetzes volunteered to redesign and produce the neighborhood news letter.

"We feel like if we live here, the newsletter can't look ugly," says Mr. Schuetz. Each month, almost 30 volunteer carriers distribute the publication to some 1,200 homes.

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