In the eye of the beholder House: Scraps of history, blended in avant design by a foreign-born resident, simmer up a recipe for neighborhood conflict in Anne Arundel.

August 19, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

In sleepy, historic Shady Side, one waterfront home sticks out like an Andy Warhol abstract on a wall full of Rembrandts.

Neighbors call the house hideous, bizarre, out-of-place. Creepy.

The house's owner calls his neighbors uncompromising, old-fashioned, unimaginative. Racist.

Insults are flying here in southern Anne Arundel County. Feelings are hurt. And a neighborhood barbecue is simply out of the question.

Welcome to West Shady Side Road. Home to some of the oldest houses in this tiny peninsula town. Home to gray-haired couples who have never lived anywhere else.

And now, home to a famous artist whose unconventional architectural taste is turning his house into a living museum of history and his neighborhood into an unforgiving battlefield.

The massive two-story edifice -- with its looming black windows, imposing stonework and eerie hand-sculpted gargoyles -- may indeed be ugly.

But the war of words over it has gotten far, far uglier.

"It's bordering on harassment," the disgusted owner recalls telling neighbors recently.

"Having to look at that thing every morning is the harassment," he heard back.

"This is America. Land of free expression. You don't like it? Too bad," he angrily replied.

In this neighborhood drama, there are no middle ground, no absolute heroes, villains or victims -- and no happy ending in sight.

Meet Reinaldo.

His last name used to be Lopez, but he doesn't go by that anymore. He is a renowned Spanish artist, and dropping the last name is just one of his many quirks.

He is handsome and boyish at 54. Quick with a joke and a history lesson. Adores his wife and four dogs. Hates his neighbors.

"Thank God, one of them died a while back," he says. "That's one less son of a ..... ."

In 1983 -- after a tumultuous art career in Spain, unable to speak a word of English and with exactly $2,500 in his pocket -- Reinaldo moved to the United States. Met his wife. Made it big.

Renowned as a brilliant sculptor of stone and marble, he founded Professional Restoration Inc. and soon landed some of the nation's hottest renovating jobs -- stonework for the Smithsonian, the Korean War Memorial and Fort McHenry, restoration of the marble lobby in the Washington Monument, and the controversial job of moving a sculpture of three famous women suffragists from the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol to the grand Rotunda.

"Ever since I came to this country, I have done what is expected here," Reinaldo says.

"I learned English, became a businessman, made money. I did all the rational American things."

Until now.

Reinaldo's new home in Shady Side (population about 3,500) is anything but rational, he admits.

"Everyone has to have one crazy project in their life. This is mine," he says, eyes defiant, waving his hands toward his house of wonders.

The house is avant-garde, to be sure. But it represents a lifetime of work and countless scraps of Americana. The marble in Reinaldo's garden fountain is from the original lobby of the Washington Monument. Walkway bricks are leftovers from the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Decorative stone ram and lion heads above the front doors are from the historic Safe Deposit and Trust building in Baltimore.

The ceiling's steel beams were used to heft the statues of the suffragists from the Crypt to the Rotunda of the Capitol, which for seven decades had been exclusively the home to sculpted men.

Preserving the old

"I keep the old and put it into my home," the artist says. "My neighbors hate this place -- say it's unconventional. But what could be more conventional than 200-year-old stone and marble?"

Reinaldo, an engaging and likable man, talks of being discriminated against because he is Spanish and his wife, Patricia, is Peruvian.

He remembers one neighbor yelling at his wife, "Why don't you people go back to Egypt or wherever you're from?"

His eyes turn sad when he describes the feeling of being unwanted in this place he has chosen to call home.

But at the same time, Reinaldo is honest to a fault. It's hard to see him as the victim of unwelcoming neighbors when he clearly gives as good as he gets.

"Forget them," he will say. "They can live their mediocre little lives in their mediocre little houses. My wife is more educated than them. My car is nicer. My home transcends the mediocrity."

Indeed, his wife got her master's degree in psychology from Georgetown University.

And the car in his driveway is a Lexus.

Now, meet the neighbors. They don't know the ram and lion heads over Reinaldo's front door date from 1791. They don't know the marble fireplace in his living room is made of scraps from the military women's memorial. And they don't know that the foreign guy living next door is featured in art history textbooks in Spain.

They don't much care.

"He's making a fool out of Shady Side," says Bill Papian, president of the Shady Side Peninsula Association. "That place is going to be a tourist attraction. Heck, people travel halfway across the world to see the leaning Tower of Pisa."

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