Sudbrook Park, now 110, lauds the creator who gave it curves

Architect Olmsted defied axiom that village roads were to be ruler-straight

October 25, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

When landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. first drew up plans for Sudbrook Park more than a century ago, he had trouble finding an engineer willing to work with him.

Until that time, village roads were always laid straight as a ruler. Olmsted proposed a community with curved roads. The engineers were stumped.

Yesterday, near the intersection of two of Olmsted's curvy streets, about 75 residents of Sudbrook gathered to honor Olmsted and the neighborhood he created 110 years ago.

"He was a visionary," Melanie Anson, a Sudbrook Park resident and author of a book on the community's history, told the audience of residents and county officials.

"It was a successful suburb because he gave people more than a place to live. He was creating a community."

Sudbrook Park, on 204 acres south of Pikesville, is one of only three communities in the nation designed by Olmsted, who is best-known for designing New York's Central Park. Olmsted's use of deed restrictions on setbacks and lot size laid the foundation for modern zoning ordinances.

To mark their neighborhood's 110th anniversary, Sudbrook Park residents organized a croquet match teaming County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and other county officials against members of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Ruppersberger's team won, walking away from the match with an oversized gold-colored mallet as a prize.

County officials then unveiled a new historic sign. The original marker, installed in the 1970s after the community was listed as a national historic site, contained a number of factual errors. Among them: that the community was built in 1891 as a rural summer community with a swimming pool. It was built in 1889 as a year-round community with no swimming pool.

"Little did anyone know that [sign] had six factual errors," said Anson, who discovered the problems while sifting through thousands of documents at the Maryland Historical Society while researching her book.

Sudbrook Park's history dates to 1876, when Olmsted was asked to plan a village on the Sudbrook estate owned by gentleman farmer James Howard McHenry.

The community opened in 1889 with Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes priced from $3,000 to $6,000. Sudbrook Park also boasted a hotel, the center of social life until it burned down in 1926. The neighborhood grew after World War II, when developers built hundreds of neo-Colonial-style homes.

Charles Beveridge, an Olmsted scholar at American University who attended the celebration yesterday, said Sudbrook Park is a treasure for people who want to study the architect's work.

The neighborhood's roads, lined with oaks, poplars, elms and other trees, provide a "kind, subtle opening up of spaces," he said. "It's not predictable."

Over the years, the community has fought to preserve its past. Residents have successfully battled a number of major transportation projects -- including the Baltimore Metro -- they feared would harm the neighborhood.

The Mass Transit Administration agreed to a compromise on the Metro line, building a cut-and-cover tunnel that left the entrance area of the Olmsted plan intact and clearing fewer trees.

Yesterday's festivities drew many lifetime residents, including Sarah Pyle Sener, 72, who grew up in a Victorian home on Windsor Road. When she got married, she never thought about leaving Sudbrook Park, she said.

"I thought it was the prettiest place in the world," she said.

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