Quiet, stable, without problems Its residents consider Overlea to be among best of neighborhoods

Neighborhood Profile: Overlea

August 30, 1998|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Let me tell you about the kind of neighborhood I live in," said Mel Knight, a resident of Overlea for nine years. "I go to the community association to offer to help solve some of their problems, but they don't need my help because there really aren't any problems. So, I give my time to a group downtown that does have problems."

That suits Knight just fine.

Most people will agree that Overlea is a quiet, very stable place. In their eyes, it's overlooked as one of the city's best neighborhoods in which to live. Many people have found it by accident.

Knight, a real estate agent with O'Conor Piper Flynn-ERA at Wyndhurst, was unfamiliar with the area when he got a call from someone interested in a house in Overlea.

The prospective buyer passed on the property, but Knight bought it and got a 12-room, brick-and-slate house that would sell for around $120,000, including a two-car garage.

If one travels up Belair Road until it crosses the city-county line, he'd be in Overlea. It's unique because it straddles the boundary. In fact, there are houses where the living room is in Baltimore City and the kitchen is in Baltimore County. But on either side of the line, this northeastern community has almost every quality a person might want in a neighborhood.

The first thing that comes to mind when residents are asked about Overlea is the feeling of security. "We have the least

amount of crime in the city," said Elsie Bell, a longtime resident, "hardly any crime on the county side either."

Knight's home is a good example of the amount of house a buyer can get for the money.

"A mile away in White Marsh, a townhouse sells for $120,000," Knight said. The single-family houses that make up most of the community range in price from $70,000 to $120,000.

The community is what planners today call a traditional neighborhood because it's not totally reliant on the car. It's close to the shopping district along Belair Road and very convenient to mass transit with a 20-minute commute into the city.

The No. 15 bus travels up Belair Road and then uses the old Overlea trolley turnaround to head back into the city. Many people, including Elsie Bell, remember when Overlea was a streetcar suburb and used the No. 15 trolley.

"People used to walk back and forth to the streetcar line, so you'd really get to know everyone," said Bell.

"You'd meet them on the streetcar or say hello to them from your porch when they walked by."

Belair Road has a good variety of small stores, taverns and restaurants, but most residents go out of the neighborhood to do their major shopping at White Marsh and Golden Ring malls.

All of these attributes persuaded Norma Secoura, a real estate agent with the Towson office of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., to leave her home in Timonium and buy a large home that was built in 1912 on Chesley Avenue.

"Everything's so spread out in the county; here, I can take a walk after dinner," she remarked. "If I wanted a totally modern house, I'd have looked in Perry Hall, but I love historic homes."

It's the older communities such as Overlea that have that historic feel, she explained.

Secoura is the chairman of the education committee of the Baltimore County Historical Trust and conducted a walking tour of Overlea in May.

Every street in Overlea, it seems, is an interesting mixture of late 19th-century and 20th-century architecture.

The styles range from the area's earliest Queen Anne and Gothic farmhouses and cottages to four squares and bungalows. There are also examples of Baltimore's earliest concrete block houses, one of which is what Secoura lives in. The neighborhood has many parks, including the 13-acre Lillian Holt Park and Center for the Arts, a former Methodist retreat whose small cabins are now used for artists' studios.

Overlea was basically farmland until 1895, when the Kennard and Overlea land companies bought up local farms and began development. In 1911, Belair Road, then a toll road known as the Baltimore and Jerusalem Turnpike, was turned over to Baltimore County.

By World War I, many businesses, schools and churches had sprung up along this main thoroughfare. Development of the area took off in the 1920s because the last annexation by the city in 1918 brought the southwestern part of Overlea into the city proper along with gas, electricity and water service. The period after World War II saw the final surge of development.

Many people have elected to live in Overlea because of the schools.

"We have some of the best schools in the city, including a very strong parochial system," said Paul Monaghan, treasurer of the Overlea Community Association.

"There're many second- and third-generation buyers in here," said Joe Groves, the outgoing president of the Overlea Community Association.

"Kids look for homes in their parents' neighborhood," added Monaghan.

"This community is far more conducive to children than the suburbs," said Secoura, who has a daughter who attends Catholic High. "We can walk to church."

"People who move here stay," emphasized Elsie Bell. She should know: She's lived in Overlea for 73 years.

Overlea

Population: 12,137 (1990 census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Fullerton Elementary, Glenmount Elementary, Woodholme Elementary, Hamilton Middle School, Overlea High School, Maryland School for the Blind

Areas of interest: Lillian Holt Park and Center for the Arts.

ZIP codes: 21206, 21236

Average price of single-family house: $97,000 *

* Based on on 13 sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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