Happy with a house that stays put


August 07, 1994|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,Special to the Sun

Frank and Shirley Mendez are thrilled -- and thankful -- that their Victorian home has a history.

For them, it was more than merely interesting to be able to trace the ownership of their quarter-acre lot in Southwest Baltimore back to the Duchess of Leeds, a granddaughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

And it was more than simply appealing that under their linoleum floors were bits of newspapers with stories of President Roosevelt.

For this couple, recently relocated from an earthquake-prone section of California, the history is downright reassuring. A structure that has stood the test of time is not something they take for granted.

"It took me four months after I moved here [in March] that I didn't think "Earthquake!" when trucks rumbled down the street," says Mrs. Mendez, 44. "There were always tremors [out there]."

She says she has suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the devastating quake in 1989. The quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, was centered 10 miles from her ranch house in the mountains of Monterey County in central California.

"Walls were moving in and out; cars were jumping; and the street was moving in waves like the ocean," she remembers. "Buildings just dropped straight down."

Although the Mendezes' chimney caved in, and dishes crashed from the cupboard, and the refrigerator walked across the kitchen, Mrs. Mendez figures they got off easy. But, she didn't want to push their luck too long and sit around waiting for "the big one."

So after 23 years on the West Coast, Mrs. Mendez looked homeward. It had taken six years of cajoling, she said, to %J persuade her husband to move to Baltimore, where she was born and raised.

Now, she and Mr. Mendez, 43, an HVAC technician for Meridian Healthcare in Rosedale, along with their two children, Diana, 4, and Frankie, 8, live on terra firma in Violetville, just blocks from Mrs. Mendez's mother and sister and in the backyard of St. Agnes Hospital.

"We were looking [for a home] for six months," she says. "We both like things that are real different. I had in mind an old country house, but nothing jumped out at us. And the new homes didn't have any style."

Then Mrs. Mendez happened upon a photo of a curious, white-turreted house in a neighborhood tabloid. She drove around until she found it and immediately fell in love.

Within a day, the Mendezes submitted a contract on the three-bedroom home on Pine Heights Avenue, a narrow one-way street that is a collage of rowhouses, Cape Cods and Victorians. For $85,900, they bought their dream, complete with curved walls, claw-foot tub, spooky attic -- and zero closet space. To compensate were a couple of hand-me-down wardrobes, compliments of the previous owners.

Mrs. Mendez likes the nooks and crannies inside, as well as the wide open space that is her backyard.

"Out front is a close-knit community with neighbors to talk to," she says. "But back here, even though we're in the city, it has a get-away-from-the-rest-of-the-world feel."

Out back near a vegetable garden, under old trees is a vestige of the family's California lifestyle: a hot tub. On a sweltering summer afternoon, its waters are calm.

L "It's peaceful here," says 8-year-old Frankie to his mother.

Peaceful, and wonderfully still.

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