A Victorian Dream House Reawakens


Renovation: Wallace Warfield Simpson was rumored to have taken tea in this Mount Vernon masterpiece when she was a child. Now two men are restoring the Victorian to its original glory.

January 16, 2000|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even though the first time Ron Peltzer saw his home was at night, he could see that it was going to be the perfect choice for him.

Forget that the property had been on the market for more than three years, that almost every room was painted battleship gray and that just about all of the water lines had burst from improper winterizing. Peltzer knew he could transform the historic Mount Vernon house -- all 3,700 square feet of it.

And now, the once-gray walls give way to rich purples, blues and greens -- matching the colors of the stained-glass windows.

And although Peltzer estimates that he still is only about halfway finished, the house has taken on much of its former glory.

Peltzer, a quality assurance technician for a Hunt Valley company, and his roommate Philip Baty, a representative for an auctioneer and appraisal company in Washington, moved from a house near the city limits to the more centrally located Mount Vernon house. They were looking for everything urban life has to offer -- walking distance to shops and restaurants, a feeling of history and a sense of community.

They also needed a larger house. Their previous house no longer could hold the antiques that Peltzer and Baty had collected -- including three antique grand pianos.

"This house was almost 4,000 square feet and that's small for this neighborhood," Baty said. "But it's very well-appointed with marble fireplaces, stained glass and really nice floors. There is no home in Mount Vernon with windows like this."

Peltzer bought the house for $66,000 and attached a 203(k) FHA rehabilitation loan in the amount of $19,000 to the mortgage. He estimates that he has put another $25,000 of sweat equity into the house.

Why all this work?

"I'm saving a piece of Baltimore history," Peltzer said. "I saw the house -- at night -- and fell in love with it. It needed to be saved."

Built in the mid-1880s, the house sits near the northwest corner of Biddle and Hunter streets, just three houses from the home of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the divorcee who married Edward VIII, forcing him to renounce the British throne. According to Peltzer, rumor has it that she used to come to his house for tea as a child.

From his research, Peltzer found that the house was built by Solomon and Sarah Corner in 1886 and was sold to their daughter, Adele Corner, in 1887 for $12,000.

The house, of Flemish/Victorian design, consists of 16 rooms on four floors. Over the years it served as a private home, doctor's office and apartments that didn't require permanently dividing up the building.

Despite these many changes, much of the house's original architecture and accouterments were left intact, including 8-foot-high walnut pocket doors, a claw-foot tub, five fireplaces and a servants' back staircase.

The most amazing feature of the house and what inspired Peltzer's love are the stained glass windows. The front 6-by-8-foot window is filled with a rich purple stained glass. And along the side of the first floor are three 4-by-8 foot windows with their original stained glass. The second and third floors have several stained-glass transom windows.

"When the light shines through the windows, it gives a rainbow effect," said Peltzer. "The great thing about this house is you get a lot of light. The colors were chosen to match the colors of the stained glass and that motif is carried throughout the house."

All of the rooms on the main living area have 11-foot ceilings that curve into the wall. That combined with the light from the windows creates a feeling of openness and space not usually found in city homes.

A lot of work transformed the home into its current condition. At the time of purchase, every water pipe had burst because of the winter cold; a drain extending through four floors was cracked its entire length, and the slate roof had not been correctly repaired and was leaking.

Peltzer contracted out the plumbing and roof repairs, but the interior he and Baty did themselves.

Five fireplaces have been exposed and four have new mantels. The one that doesn't is a gas brick fireplace constructed from ceiling to floor with an opening that allows someone standing in the kitchen to look into the dining room. This again creates an open feeling and, according to Peltzer, is his favorite place in the house.

"Luckily, these homes were so well constructed that they can take a lot," Peltzer said.

The house is an ideal place to store his and Baty's many antiques.

Beside the three pianos (one in the basement and two in the first-floor parlor), the house is furnished with an Empire center table and sideboard, both made in Baltimore around 1840. A Napoleon III-style chandelier purchased in Paris hangs in the foyer. Various paintings, drawings and watercolors collected over the years are displayed throughout the house.

In the second-floor bathroom, with its original claw-foot tub, is a room-sized mural depicting life in Baltimore by local contemporary artist Kimberly Sheridan.

The second floor also offers two bedrooms, a parlor, hall closet and the servants' staircase that leads down to the first-floor kitchen.

The top floor includes the master bedroom and bath, a laundry room, closet and a small guest bedroom. The basement has been made into a gallery to show and house local artwork for various nonprofit functions.

Peltzer acknowledges the home is a work in progress. And has yet to decide if the next big project will include renovating the outside brick work or completing a central air conditioning system that currently covers half the house.

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