A community goes forth each Saturday

Neighborhood profile: Bancroft Park

Bancroft Park lovely, quiet, unique

August 22, 1999|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Good Shabbos."

The Hebrew greeting for Good Sabbath is exchanged hundreds of times on a Saturday by the predominantly Orthodox Jewish community in Bancroft Park, a unique neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore.

"On Saturdays, you see literally hundreds of people walking to and from synagogues, giving the neighborhood a tremendous sense of community," explained Eric Benzer, an attorney who lives on Bancroft Road.

Within Orthodox Judaism, there are different degrees of religious observance, but most do not drive on the Sabbath. "It's truly like a park on Saturday," he added.

Benzer grew up in Pikesville and always wanted to live in Bancroft Park.

A Baltimore City Historic Landmark District consisting of about 30 homes, Bancroft Park straddles Bancroft Road and part of Wirt Avenue between Park Heights Avenue and Cross Country Boulevard.

Part of a larger Orthodox community that stretches from Glen Avenue to the city line along Park Heights, the neighborhood has been home to doctors, lawyers, businessmen and professionals since 1906.

Originally a gentile neighborhood, Bancroft has been largely Jewish since the mid-1920s. About eight years ago, Orthodox Jews began arriving. "Most of the homeowners were Reform or Conservative Jews," said Benzer. "Now, the Orthodox community has come in and welcomed us into their traditions. The diversity here is remarkable."

The neighborhood is a handsome example of early 20th-century suburban development. "Bancroft Road is an incredibly eclectic street," said Stewart Macklin, an architect and resident since 1979. No two houses are alike in Bancroft Park, with styles including French Provincial, Tudor, English Manor, Spanish Revival and Colonial Revival.

Macklin, who lives in a wood-frame house with a wrap-around porch, especially admires the layout of the street:

"The houses all have wide setbacks from the street, giving it a wonderful elegance."

The big sycamore trees that line Bancroft Road give the neighborhood a stately and tranquil appearance. "When I take visitors through, they can literally feel the nature of the block," said Macklin. People from outside the neighborhood like to walk in Bancroft Park for the same reason.

"Most of the people you see walking on a Saturday don't live in Bancroft Park, they're from the surrounding neighborhoods on their way to the many Orthodox synagogues on Park Heights. They love to cut through," said Ben Adler, who has lived in the neighborhood his entire 72 years.

Lately, very few houses have come on the market, although Yanky Bulua, an agent in the Pikesville office of Long and Foster Real Estate, is listing a four-bedroom house on Wirt for $189,000.

Sales in the area are infrequent, with only one being recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System -- the multiple listing service for Realtors -- in the past 12 months. During the past four years, the sales price of a typical home has been about $223,000, according to the MRIS.

Most of the homes on Bancroft Road are large with four or five bedrooms on lots of 0.75 acre to 1 acre, sizable for city lots. Some owners have double lots, as in the case of a glassblower who has built a studio and a trellised garden on the parcel next to his house.

When Bancroft Park opened in 1906, it was advertised as "the most attractive home place about Baltimore for a suburban home of the first class." A 100-by-225-foot lot was available for $1,000. One of its main selling points was one that Macklin greatly admires, its site design.

The large lots on the wide, curving Bancroft Road were laid out in 1907 by the famed Olmstead Brothers, "noted landscape artists of Boston" and sons of Frederick Law Olmstead, the creator of New York's Central Park. Developed by the Bancroft Park Co., it controlled the look of the community with many of the covenants pioneered by Roland Park such as design approval, setback and a minimum construction cost of $5,000.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population did not live on Park Heights Avenue. Bancroft Park, like many suburban developments, had an unwritten rule not to sell to Jews.

Another important selling point at that time was that the new development was next to the Maryland Country Club, an elite gentile golf club, which also did not admit Jews.

But a recession in the mid-1920s made the Bancroft Park Co. change its policy. Jewish buyers began to move to the development.

According Ben Adler, Park Heights at Bancroft Road became department store row with mansions built by the Hechts, Hutzlers, Hochschilds and Gutmans. The great estates were sold in the 1950s and 1960s for apartment development.

The community achieved city landmark status in 1993 and is under the supervision of the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation for any exterior changes to the houses and lots.

Said Benzer: "During the workweek, we all get lost in our own lives, but on Saturday when everyone is out walking and socializing, we become part of a real community."

Bancroft Park

ZIP code: 21215

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Cross Country Elementary, Fallstaff Middle, Northwestern High

Shopping: Greenspring Shopping Center, Seven Mile Market -- largest Kosher market outside New York

Homes on market: 1

Average listing price: $360,000 *

Recent sales price: $275,000 *

Average days on the market: 53 *

Sales price as a percentage of listing price: 76% *

* Based on 1 sales in the last 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System

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