Waverly: vibrancy and charm at bargain prices Residents enjoy urban convenience and a village feel

Neighborhood Profile

January 28, 1996|By Rosalia Scalia | Rosalia Scalia,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

St. John's Church of Huntingdon sits tucked away from the traffic of the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave., nearly invisible behind forsythia bushes that bloom profusely in spring. Originally built in 1846, destroyed by fire in 1858 and reconstructed in 1859, the Gothic stone church is a reminder of the time when Waverly was a country village called Huntingdon on the outskirts of Baltimore.

It was renamed "Waverley" after Sir Walter Scott's novel just after the Civil War, when residents' petition for a post office was denied due to the plethora of similarly named postal stations already in the state. Over the years, the second "e" was dropped.

Described as "a Victorian village" by the popular 19th century poet/author Lizette Woodworth Reese, Waverly was a summer getaway for wealthy Baltimoreans who built great mansion estates around Greenmount Avenue. "Reese lived in Waverly her whole life and used it as the setting for a number of her poems," said the Rev. Jesse Parker, St. John's rector. "She never married. She is buried in the cemetery with her parents."

Today, St. John's 11 bells chime the quarter-hour throughout what is now a vibrant, affordable, urban neighborhood that retains some of the village feel. Just a quarter-mile east of the Baltimore Museum of Art and in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, Waverly is bounded by Greenmount Avenue on the west, 39th Street and Ellerslie Avenue on the north, Exeter Hall Avenue on the south and Loch Raven Boulevard on the east.

Designated as a Baltimore City Conservation Area, the neighborhood has a comprehensive plan for neighborhood improvement.

According to Sandi Sparks of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC), the homes are diverse and reflect Waverly's history and growth. There are simple wood frame homes, more ornate 100- to 110-year-old Victorian homes (on Old York Road) and the sturdily built post-World War I brick rowhouses that feature hardwood floors, fireplaces and sun porches. Ancient, gnarled trees such as the ones on Homestead Street stand guard and respectable front and back yards surround some of the detached and semidetached frame houses.

"Look at these houses. They are huge, and reasonably priced. Look at those trees," said Buzz Merrick, who moved from Savage to the city a few years ago. "In some places, it is hard to believe this is in the city," said Mr. Merrick, now co-chairman of the Better Waverly Association, one of two community associations active in Waverly. The Better Waverly Association is active in the portion of the community that is south of 33rd Street; the Waverly Improvement Association covers the area north of 33rd.

Houses in Waverly can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $84,000, depending on housing style and condition, said Barney Simpson of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty. The larger Victorian houses tend to be higher-priced, he said. Last year, 34 Waverly houses sold for an average price of $42,000. According to Simpson, there are about 46 houses in the neighborhood currently on the market.

According to John Grupenhoff of Long and Foster's Towson office, a Waverly house sells in an average of 121 days, with an average list price of $43,000.

"Waverly is a good place for a first-time homebuyer," said Steven Wilson, director of the Waverly Homeownership Program. According to Mr. Wilson, anyone wishing to purchase a home in one of Baltimore's seven conservation areas can apply for a $7,500 loan that usually meets a down payment and closing costs. If the homeowner lives in the house for 10 years, the loan is forgiven, Mr. Wilson said.

A drive through the neighborhood reveals a number of boarded-up houses. The GHCC's Waverly Housing Program, along with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, and the Baltimore Housing Partnership, work together to identify abandoned houses. "We then acquire and rehab them and resell them to first-time homebuyers," Mr. Wilson said. At least 10 houses were sold last year as a result of this program.

While the arrival of the National Football League Browns at Memorial Stadium will bring money into the area, most of the residents see greater potential in the Johns Hopkins University's recent purchase of the old Eastern High School, hoping for a long-term economic boost for the area.

"The Browns will be gone in two years, and the big question then is what is going to happen to Memorial Stadium," said Jim Fendler, co-chairman of the Waverly Improvement Association. Despite the stadium uncertainty, Waverly's residents tend to be committed to city living and dedicated to the neighborhood's survival.

"So far, we have had two anti-crime rallies and staged a successful read-in at the public library to reverse a decision to reduce the amount of hours it would be open," Mr. Merrick said. "More than 100 people showed up for the read-in."

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