Mayor's community is staid and stately


March 20, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

Ashburton is a community of wide lawns fronting magnificent Tudors, stately Colonials, well-kept bungalows and neat town homes -- close to the center of Baltimore.

The well-manicured look of the place is in keeping with the social status of many of the people who live there. Ashburton has as many powerful residents as any in Baltimore. Among them are the mayor, the state's attorney, judges, state legislators, lawyers, educators, doctors and other professionals.

"Ashburton was always viewed as one of the best neighborhoods in Baltimore," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

As a youngster, Mr. Schmoke said he marveled at the canopy of trees that arched over Sequoia Avenue. That scene was one of the reasons that Mr. Schmoke vowed to one day move to the neighborhood. He bought a contemporary home on Sequoia Avenue 11 years ago.

Despite the classy clientele and in-town location, home prices in Ashburton are lower than in other professional neighborhoods. Real estate professionals cite several reasons. Ashburton is close to several poor communities, some of which suffer from problems common to inner-city neighborhoods everywhere: drugs and crime.

Also, the public schools in the area are considered by many people to be at best adequate. As a result, many Ashburton residents -- including Mr. Schmoke -- send their children to private schools. In addition, a large percentage of the area's middle-class is leaving for homes outside the city.

But real estate salespeople say the biggest reason for Ashburton's relatively low prices is race.

The last eight detached homes sold in the neighborhood went for an average price of $108,500, said Denise DeLeaver, president of Creative Real Estate Services Inc. and an Ashburton resident.

"Ashburton is a very beautiful community, but it happens to be nearly all African-American," Ms. DeLeaver said. "Normally, you don't have other people looking in our communities. That lowers demand and price. The homes in Ashburton are comparable to '' the homes in Ten Hills and Mount Washington, but they sell for much less."

But the larger issues of race and economics are not daily concerns for residents here, who enjoy the area's blend of suburban serenity and urban convenience. The neighborhood is bounded roughly by Wabash Avenue on the south, Sequoia and Dolfield avenues on the east, Liberty Heights Avenue on the west and Callaway Avenue on the north.

"When I moved here I was looking for something quiet, accessible to schools, church and shopping," said Lorene O. Cephas, a retired federal employee who has lived in Ashburton for 30 years. "Ashburton just fit the bill. I don't think much has changed. It is just that stable."

Real estate agents say homes do not come on the market frequently in Ashburton.

"Turnover here is not that great," said Mark Powell, who has lived in Ashburton since 1959. "As a rule, people hold on here, I think because they know what they have here."

A manor and farm

Before being built, Ashburton was the manor and farm of the Gittings family, which has deep roots in Maryland politics and banking. After homes went up, Ashburton became the province of gentile whites.

That changed to some degree because of the financial #i pressures brought on by the Depression, which caused the lifting of restrictions against Jews owning homes in the neighborhood. Within a decade, the area had a mix of Jews and gentiles.

The first blacks -- a high school principal and his family -- moved into the neighborhood in 1956. Within a year, more than 20 other black families had arrived and by 1959 there were more than 100 black families in the area.

It was then that Ashburton began to be known as the Gold Coast for black Baltimoreans -- a moniker that many still find apt. According to the 1990 census, 98 percent of residents here are black. The census found that median family income in the area was $39,211 -- well above the citywide median of $28,217.

"For years, it has been known as one the nicest neighborhoods for blacks in Baltimore," Mr. Powell said. "I think that remains the same."


Population: 3,442.

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 40 minutes

Public schools: Ashburton Elementary, Garrison Middle, Forest Park Senior High.

Shopping: Stores in strip malls along Liberty Heights and Dolfield avenues.

Nearest mall: Mondawmin, about half-mile south on Liberty Heights Avenue.

Average price of single-family home *: $80,904.

ZIP code: 21215

* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months.

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