Where old-timers and yuppies live side by side in harmony Wyman Park blends a touch of the country and convenience of city

Neighborhood profile

April 13, 1997|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Here's a house-buying fairy tale.

Five years ago, Mary Ellen and Bruce Johnson were taking an after-dinner walk from their 38th Street home. They rounded the corner and there it was. They spied a house for sale in Wyman Park and fell in love with it. Even though they weren't in the market to buy, they found themselves going to contract three days later for the house on Tudor Arms Avenue.

"I guess it's the ultimate impulse buy," said Mary Ellen, sitting on her bench in the front lawn watching a soccer game across the street in the 40-acre park. Cars were parked on the field, a few players were plunked down on the grass. That's Wyman Park -- very casual.

Then out of the trail came a gray-haired woman, struggling to ride a bike -- a skill until now she'd never quite mastered.

Kate Stebe and Joe Sclafani, on their stoop with glasses of wine in hand, watched the cherry blossoms in the afternoon sunshine on their part of the park on Gilman Terrace. They got their wedding pictures taken out front by the park.

Wyman Park somehow fuses the bucolic with the cosmopolitan, a yuppie feel with a roll-up-the-sleeve work ethic.

Nestled between Hampden and the Stony Run basin, Wyman Park is one of those neighborhoods that reveals itself every so often to people who count themselves lucky for having discovered its charm.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the area remained attached to large rural estates and the only settlement of note occurred in the adjacent Stony Run valley. In fact, two flour mills once operated in the area.

In the late 1800s, a popular tavern, known as Biddy Rice's Saloon, operated along the tracks opposite Bottle Hill, where the Tudor Arms Apartments now stand.

Just talk with anyone in the seven-block-long, three-block-wide strip overlooking the glen and the Johns Hopkins University campus and they'll act as if they've found a long-lost oasis of city life.

For the last few years the next crop of professionals have been moving in, mixing well with the old-timers.

Dennis Byrne, president of the community association, was among an earlier wave of newcomers who moved to Wyman Park to find a neighborhood filled with people who would sit on their porches and recall when the Northern Police barracks was the Equestrian Police barracks, where officers on horseback would change shifts.

"It was about 1932 when they got their first cars," said John Sunderland, 77, who has lived all his life in Wyman Park.

Sunderland couldn't say he's never moved, but he has loved the people he grew up with, many of whom, "have moved, died or gotten rich."

Once they loved Formstone

The old-timers tell of a time when the "old Ma and Pa" (the Maryland-Pennsylvania Railroad) would chug through the park into Baltimore.

Even now, the neighborhood is home to several railroad workers who merely have to travel down Falls Road to Pennsylvania Station.

The big difference between then and now, Byrne said, is "back then, people would talk positively about aluminum siding and Formstone."

Most of the construction along Wyman Park took place in the 1920s and continued into the 1960s with the development of several small garden apartments

Portions of the 60-acre tract of land, including the park area in front of the Baltimore Museum of Art, now called The Dell, were given to Johns Hopkins University and the city in 1898 by William Wyman in order to stave off development.

They still love the park

Almost 100 years later, the neighborhood's identity still revolves around the park.

"I was raised in the country and all you have to do is walk across the street and you have 40 acres of woods," Byrne said.

"You get geese in the spring and geese in summer. Sometimes you can get peacocks, wood ducks, mallards; sometimes you'll see herons."

In the late 1950s, the Stony Run part of Wyman Park was nearly turned over to the university. The neighborhood's association banded together and saved the wooded frontage.

Then in the 1980s, again it seemed as if Wyman Park was bound to be engulfed by Johns Hopkins. The neighborhood rallied with the help of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

A deal was struck where Hopkins could develop the east side and use the field in the basin, while the west side would be preserved for the neighborhood.

Food, music, togetherness

During the summer, the neighborhood has been known to throw alley barbecues. Two summer concerts are held in the park, one of which is under the stone Wyman Park Drive Bridge. There's a neighborhood flea market and every weekend a dog-walking club goes on patrol, after meeting for brunch.

Along with the park's obvious presence, there are many faces to this neighborhood, from the leafy Beech Avenue to the alleys of cozy gardens. It's a place where residents feel comfortable and at home.

As Lura Warren, who grew up in the neighborhood, said, "I always tell people if I won the lottery I still wouldn't move out of here."

Wyman Park

Population: 1,796 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes

Public schools: Hampden Elementary School, Robert Poole Middle School

Shopping: The Rotunda

Points of interest: Wyman Park, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Johns Hopkins University.

ZIP code: 21211

Average price of a single-family home: $88,488*.

*Based on 35 sales during a nine-month period by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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