Traditional, walkable and still doing well

Neighborhood Profile: Woodlawn

Community's center a mix of business, play and civic life

February 07, 1999|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There was a time when people could walk to their neighborhood village to shop, get a haircut, go to church or order a pizza. But the suburban sprawl that started after World War II forced Americans to go everywhere by car.

Traditional, walkable communities are mostly a thing of the past, yet some -- such as Woodlawn -- still exist and are doing well.

"Everything I needed was within walking distance," remembered Dick Wittich, an engineer at Bell Atlantic who grew up in Woodlawn but now lives in Parkville. "I walked to the hardware store to buy a fishing lure or to the soda fountain at the Woodlawn Pharmacy."

People who live in Woodlawn today can still do that. The neighborhood's center -- at the intersection of Windsor Mill Road and Gwynn Oak Avenue -- is a well-integrated mix of commercial, civic and recreational life.

In an age of chain stores, Woodlawn Village is almost entirely made up of locally owned businesses. "The person you see behind the counter is usually the owner," remarked Dave Green, a Baltimore County planner. "There's lots of pride in the businesses they run."

The owner of Woodlawn Pharmacy, David Greenfeld, agrees.

"There's still room in this world for personal service," Greenfeld said. His drugstore is an independently owned operation, a rarity in a sea of chain pharmacies. To compete, he offers a service specializing in health needs such as beds, fitted braces and canes. Greenfeld's father and daughter are also pharmacists.

The soda fountain where Wittich downed many a soda is still there. Greenfeld rents it out, and one can still get an ice cream soda or homemade soup. The old-timers of Woodlawn like to meet there for coffee and talk. It's not a hangout for young people, though. According to Greenfeld, "Kids don't know that drugstores once had lunch counters."

Bauhof's Bakery, a fixture in Woodlawn for more than 50 years, recently closed to the ire of the community, but a new owner will soon reopen it. Heritage Savings Bank, Kron's delicatessen, and Arundel Cleaners are all Woodlawn institutions that still carry on, along with the practices of doctors, accountants and lawyers.

Associations merge

The Woodlawn Business and Professional Association recently merged with the Security Merchants Association and is working with a group of prospective buyers to turn the former Subway sandwich shop at the corner of Windsor Mill and Gwynn Oak into an office building.

"Woodlawn has a real sense of community," said Cathy O'Connor, who works out of the Catonsville office of Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. "Besides the stores, it has a police station and a new volunteer firehouse, just like a little town."

In the days before zoning, schools were right in the center of the village. Although the old Woodlawn Elementary on Gwynn Oak Avenue is on the county's surplus property list, it's being leased to a private school and a day-care center. The school's gym is used by the Baltimore County Parks and Recreation Council.

The history of Woodlawn begins with the story of the Powhatan Mill, designed by Robert Mills, the architect of the Washington Monument, in 1809 on the site of what is now Woodlawn Cemetery.

Gwynns Falls provided the power for the mill, which made cotton goods. In 1895, a fire closed the mill, and in 1904 the name of the village changed from Powhatan to Woodlawn. The village -- which had grown alongside the mill -- moved across Gwynns Falls to its present location. The cemetery and the stream with its swans provides a bucolic setting at the eastern edge of the village.

Two images come to mind when people think of Woodlawn. The first would be Gwynn Oak Park, the amusement park on the old No. 32 trolley line. It was visited by millions from 1895 to 1972. Report Card Day, German Day, and the Dixie Ballroom all conjure up fond memories for Baltimoreans. The park also has an important place in Baltimore's civil rights history; in July of 1963, hundreds of activists were arrested protesting the park's segregated admission policy, which was eventually discontinued.

Social Security links

Also, Woodlawn is synonymous with the Social Security Administration. In the late 1950s, the federal government -- looking to consolidate SSA offices -- chose Woodlawn for its new headquarters, a short distance from the beltway that was just being completed.

At one time, Woodlawn was a kind of company town for SSA, but according to O'Connor, people who work there now are from all over the area.

"The community offers good value for the dollar with prices in the low $90,000s," said O'Connor. Development in Woodlawn accelerated in the 1920s and continued into the late 1950s, producing Cape Cods, foursquares, and some ranchers on eighth-acre lots. The affordability and access to I-695 attract buyers, O'Connor said.

The principles that created Woodlawn are now favored by planners and urban designers over the ones that created suburban sprawl. The concept -- "traditional neighborhood design" -- seeks to develop communities with a mix of residential, commercial and public uses that can be accessed by foot or public transportation rather than by car.

Children don't have to be chauffeured by parents, and the elderly who don't drive can get to stores, libraries and schools.

Woodlawn

ZIP code: 21207

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Powhatan Elementary, Featherbed Elementary, Woodlawn Middle School, Woodlawn High School

Shopping: Woodlawn Village, Security Square Mall

Number of homes currently on the market: 47

Average listing price: $89,088*

Average sales price: $87,254*

Average days on market: 217*

Sales price as a percentage of listing price: 98%*

* Based on 61 sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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