Baltimore neighborhood celebrates its 75th year

Homeland: Residents of this serene enclave are raising money to restore its public lands.

August 24, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

With cicadas singing in the background, James and Barbara Stevens are the picture of the content Old Guard of Homeland, enjoying iced tea and oatmeal cookies on their side porch.

"There's a wonderful understanding of neighbor here," Barbara Stevens said. "It doesn't press on you, but they're there."

The Stevenses are two of many civic cheerleaders for Homeland, the serene North Baltimore neighborhood that will celebrate its 75th birthday this fall in uncharacteristically splashy style. On the October calendar are a walking tour of vintage houses, a family picnic by its idyllic lakes, a concert in the Roman Catholic cathedral that dominates its landscape, and a period movie at the art deco-style Senator Theatre that some residents have been frequenting since they were teen-agers.

Some activities are designed to enhance understanding of the past, when Homeland was created as a rustic cousin to Guilford and Roland Park in the 1920s. Others -- like a tethered hot-air balloon and classic cars on display -- are for fun, said the Stevenses, co-chairs of the "Homeland 75" committee and an energetic couple in their 60s who grew up in the village of winding lanes and streets with English names.

The birthday party also is a chance to remember and retell the story of Homeland.

Originally a working farm -- complete with a manor house, pasture and buttery -- owned by the Perine family, Roland Park Co. bought it in 1924 for $1 million and began residential development.

One Christmas Eve in the 1930s, Rosa Ponselle, the Metropolitan Opera prima donna, joined the customary Christmas carols by the lakes from the house of then-mayor Harold Jackson, at 5222 Springlake Way. The carolers fell silent listening to her voice float across the night.

That was when Barbara Stevens was a little girl in what has become her homeland. "I know every tree, bird, blade of grass," she said. Her father, Philip Heuisler, the chemist who developed Bromo Seltzer, was able to build the biggest colonial brick house in Homeland at 100 St. Alban's Way during the Depression. "Everyone needed a Bromo during the Depression," Jim Stevens said, laughing.

The Stevens are content, but hardly complacent: The main point of the celebration is to raise "tons of money" for a nonprofit foundation to restore Homeland's public lands.

Established and newer residents will join the effort. Younger homesteaders live mostly on the fringes of the nearly 400-acre rectangle, which contains about 1,000 dwellings made of brick, stone and stucco. Parts of Homeland were designed 60 or 70 years ago with smaller houses to appeal to young couples who might live their entire lives in Homeland, ultimately moving to larger houses.

At the close of the 1990s, the original formula is working. On Croydon Road, a married couple, young doctors, bought and moved into their first house in May. At $250,000, theirs was priced just below the middle range of Homeland real estate. Julie Bonacum, 36, and Jeff Rade, 37, met in medical school at the Johns Hopkins University and put down stakes in Homeland partly because its similarity to an English village appealed to the Anglophile in him.

"We're yuppies, we're both physicians," Bonacum said as they sat at dusk by one of the six decorative "lakes" -- more like ponds -- that form the heart of Homeland and are being drained and repaved at city expense. After considering whether to leave Maryland, they became enchanted with the place. "The houses are more charming and more interesting," she said.

A couple who could be called the middle guard are Alexandra and Ron Dworkin. They moved into their handsome Goodale Road house 10 years ago and were surprised to discover a diploma for Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin on the third floor. It was once the home of the Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore. Seeing the name had special significance for Alexandra Roosevelt Dworkin, a great-granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Distinct from the rambling Victorians in Roland Park and the grand mansions of Guilford, the well-kept and slate-roofed houses in Homeland are generally smaller, with tidy lawns and clean alleys that serve as convenient walkways and play areas. Homeland's cozy, uncluttered look survives because fences are forbidden by the strict covenant that has governed every home-building project.

So well-organized does Homeland appear that Realtor Arthur E. "Otts" Davis III of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. says prospective buyers ask him, "Is everyone required to cut the grass on the same day?"

Homeland is not a place where residents leave out Christmas wreaths till July. But it can't be too strait-laced, given that Anne Tyler, the writer who has chronicled Baltimore eccentrics in such novels as "The Accidental Tourist," lives there.

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