A German past is kept alive in old Victorian


Gallery: Three generations of German ancestry stare down from the walls of a Baltimore County firefighters home, while in the kitchen a grandmothers sampler extolls the beauty of cleanliness.

March 05, 2000|By Rachel Brown | Rachel Brown,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Almost every old house has a story, and Pete Schoenbrodt has filled his house with the story of his family.

Black and white photos of three generations of German immigrants grace the walls of most rooms and line the upstairs hallway.

The familys formal mahogany furniture fills the dining room, where a breakfront contains three china collections handed down from grandparents and parents.

Even the living rooms slate fireplace mantel, painted to look like marble, has a family connection having come from the house where Schoenbrodts father was born.

His love of history and antiques guided him in his search for a house 13 years ago. I told the Realtor that I wanted something at least 50 years old -- something with character.

The three-story Victorian house in St. Denis in southwest Baltimore County fit that bill more than two times over, having been built in 1866. When the Realtor called and told me the address, I liked the sound of it so much I knew this was the house for me even before I saw it, he said.

Over the years, the house went through an unusually high number of owners and tenants -- 13 in all -- and many left behind home improvements. When Al Volkman, Schoenbrodts uncle, first walked through the house, he declared that his nephew should bulldoze it and start over. Today Schoenbrodt laughs at the memory of that advice but admits that the house was a handymans special.

So many of these so-called improvements had to be ripped down, he said, including an elevated stage in the dining room and three varieties of outdoor siding on the walls.

The real estate flier boasted an open beam ceiling. Somebody had torn all the plaster off the ceiling in the living room, so you were left with the bare slats.

After buying the house for $48,500, Schoenbrodt spent the next nine months working with family and friends renovating it.

He estimates spending $50,000 to $60,000 on remodeling that included building a first-floor den and deck and converting an upstairs bedroom into a bathroom.

Schoenbrodt used a wide palette in painting the walls: soft pink and blue here, sage green and bright yellow there, while running wallpaper borders along the ceilings.

I was pretty much sticking with a Victorian theme to go with the house, he said.

Flooring in many of the rooms is random-width pine; many are covered by Oriental rugs and runners .

People always tell me this is a comfortable house -- they feel relaxed here, he said.

The name Schoenbrodt is German for beautiful bread and tiles with that phrase hang in his kitchen, along with a German sampler that reads: Immer nett und rein! Solls in der kuche sein!

My grandmother had this in her kitchen over the stove, he said. It translates to: A clean kitchen is a pretty kitchen.'"

His renovation also made use of salvaged materials. To enlarge the kitchen, he tore out a pantry but saved the wainscoting and installed it in the first-floor bathroom.

The smooth pine table top on the kitchen island is actually part of a bowling alley lane, and all of the molding around the interior doorways came from Shady Nook Nursing Home in Catonsville.

Before they tore the building down, they held an absolute sale, and I bought all of the woodwork, he said.

Schoenbrodt also scoured local auctions for other finds, including a stained glass panel he cut to fit over the front door.

Replacing windows and the exterior siding required professional help. I also hired a carpenter to re-spin and smooth the finials, he said, referring to the wooden spires at the front and back of the house.

Schoenbrodt, a 19-year career firefighter for the Catonsville Fire Department and a volunteer for Arbutus, collects firehouse memorabilia.

In the den, there are old photos of the Catonsville firehouse, and the upstairs landing boasts a lamp made out of an old device that was used to send coded fire alerts on ticker tape.

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