Enclave revels in its freedom Residents happily go own way surrounded by order of Columbia

'Hole in the doughnut'

July 26, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

From a map, it's tough to tell the dividing line between Guilford Downs and Columbia. But drive the streets off U.S. 29 and the distinctions become clear.

"It is where the sidewalks and streetlights end, that Guilford Downs starts," says Theresa Haines, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1960.

Flat-roofed 1950s houses with carports helped to define this often overlooked community that takes pride in being different from its much bigger neighbor.

"We resent anyone saying we were a part of Columbia," says Thomas G. Jewell, the Baltimore architect who designed the 58 homes. "We're the hole in the doughnut."

Take that, James W. Rouse. Not everyone wants to be part of the late developer's suburban vision. Yesterday, Guilford Downs celebrated its 40th anniversary as a community that refused to be swallowed up.

Many of the 58 homeowners and dozens of guests reminisced, showed each other pictures of their grandchildren and talked of the renovations they've done to their homes, as they ate hamburgers and hot dogs surrounded by Tiki-lamps.

Sandy and David Botts were there, of course. They've lived for 33 years on North Penfield Road, which splits the 38 acres off U.S. 29 that make up Guilford Downs. Once they had an Ellicott City mailing address; now they have a Columbia post office.

Surrounded by a city

"We're an island here," says Sandy Botts, 57. "It's a secure neighborhood where you know everybody around you, even though a big city surrounds us. We never lost our identity."

Guilford Downs is one of about a dozen of what planners call "out parcels," communities that lie within Columbia's borders but are outside the authority of the Columbia Association, its property liens and restrictive covenants governing everything from architectural style to landscaping.

Allview Estates, Columbia Hills and Beaverbrook are other out parcels in the Columbia area.

Many longtime Howard countians and Columbians agree that Guilford Downs stands out for its stubborn independence and distinctive look.

Fewer restrictions

"We don't have rules out here," says Desiree Thaler, who is called the matriarch of Guilford Downs and whose late husband was the Realtor of the neighborhood. "If you paint your house polka dot, nobody's going to say anything."

No homes are polka-dotted, but they are quite different from Rouse's Columbia.

Guilford Downs' main thoroughfare, North Penfield Road, has an old-time feel, with some of the houses retaining the original flat roofs covered with tar and white stone chips.

The models are named for towns and rivers, such as the Patuxent, with four bedrooms, the Little Patuxent, with three, and the Guilford, the only model with a basement. Front doors might be green, blue, red or pink -- colors not commonly seen or allowed in Columbia's mostly earth-tone color scheme.

Inside, some of the houses are decorated in the style of the time they were built, with red and yellow metal cabinets, pink Formica counter tops and lime-green metallic wallpaper.

"We're not Columbia. We're not Ellicott City. We're Guilford Downs," says Haines.

Driving down Pepple Drive -- which according to neighborhood legend got its name after prisoners misspelled Pebble in making the street sign -- Haines approaches the boundary with Columbia. It might as well be the Maginot line.

"That's Columbia, this is not," Haines says, as she points to two neighboring houses. "This is the last one and then you're in Columbia. "You need a passport to go in there almost," she chuckles.

Many of those who live there came as young professionals to work in Baltimore or Washington and have become retired empty-nesters. Of the 58 houses, about 30 are occupied by the original owners. Others have been there 10 years or more.

They're proud there is only one rental property, and rarely does a house go up for sale in a year. Few know their neighbor's house number, but call the house by the name of the original owners.

At the party, name tags were in use as some old-timers were meeting some newcomers -- those who have lived there for less than a decade -- for the first time.

"People don't leave this place," Botts says. "They either moved because their spouse died, they were transferred on their job, but not because they wanted a bigger house. Once they come, they stay."

Ideal in rural living

A 1957 ad in The Sun advertised the Herbert Construction Co. development, which was built on farmland, as "the ideal in rural living, in close proximity to your urban living, working and playing centers with the present day conception of de-centralization."

Many of the residents recall the days "B.C." -- before Columbia -- as a time when civic associations were more about throwing social events than negotiating neighborhood disputes.

There were the crab feasts and square dances and the New Year's Eve in the early 1970s, when people trudged through a blizzard in formal gowns and tuxedos to a neighbor's house and partied until 5 a.m.

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