A bit of the country right here in a corner of Charm City

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE : Beechfield

Beechfield is quiet, scenic, well-kept and facing its big worry

March 05, 2000|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To visit Beechfield is to visit an area of unusual quiet.

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Baltimore, Beechfield is bounded on three sides by acres of cemeteries and open space. To its west sits the Baltimore National Cemetery and a private estate; to the south is the wooded property of Charlestown, a retirement community; and to the east is a portion of Loudon Park Cemetery.

With three very quiet neighbors, Beechfield does have a peaceful, isolated feel about it.

"I liked the way the neighborhood sat off by itself," Sonya Martin, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., said of her first visit to Beechfield where she has a house for sale. "It was sort of like country living."

Although there are some rentals sprinkled throughout, Beechfield is mostly made of owner-occupied rowhouses with a section of older single-family detached houses in its western part. Prices range from $50,000 for a rowhouse on Brisbane Road to $100,000 for a very large, turn-of-the-century house on Chapelgate Road. "And you can tell this is a homeowners' neighborhood," Martin said. "Every property is well-kept."

Larry Gray, the new president of the Beechfield Community and Improvement Association, had the same reaction to the neighborhood's neat appearance when he considered living here five years ago.

Despite Beechfield's manicured look, Gray is hoping for more funds to continue to improve the area and among his list of goals for the neighborhood of 800 homes, include increasing active participation in the association. "I'd also like to shore up our cadre of block captains," Gray said.

Beechfield is about to get some new neighbors. On the western edge of the community is a 33-acre, privately owned tract, part of which will soon be developed into a community for the deaf and hearing impaired. The family of James Lancelotta, president of Lancelotta and Associates, a development company, has owned the property since the 1940s. He plans to construct 928 residential condos and 363 assisted-living/skilled-care units.

Lancelotta has worked closely with the Beechfield community on his project. "He's kept us informed every step of the way," said Gray, who welcomes the new development.

Beechfield's sylvan setting on its three boundaries can lull one into a false sense of security when, of course, crime can reach any neighborhood. On the north, the community borders busy Frederick Avenue, which has become a conduit for drug dealing from the inner city. "We can't have these little guys hanging around our corners," Gray said. So far, the problem has been mainly along Frederick Avenue and hasn't reached deep into the neighborhood.

The problem was greatly reduced with the recent renovation of Norwood Gardens, under new management and renamed Hillside Apartments. Drug dealing has dwindled there and Gray says "they've done a heck of a job turning the place around."

Reactivation of Beechfield's Citizens on Patrol program will further combat the problem, he added.

One goal of Lancelotta's development is to act as a catalyst to help rejuvenate the community, though he's seen improvement of late. "I've seen a lot more cleanup crews along Frederick Avenue since [Mayor Martin] O'Malley's come in," remarked Lancelotta, who grew up on his family's estate and graduated from nearby Mount St. Joseph's College.

Beechfield was once part of an 18th-century estate called Cloud Cap, so named because its mansion sat 450 feet above the harbor. It was reportedly used as an observation point to spot the British fleet before the Battle of Northpoint in 1814.

The mansion was demolished in 1938 when the federal government acquired a portion of the estate and created Baltimore National Cemetery. Before it became a retirement village, Charlestown was once St. Charles College, a preparatory school for young men planning to study for the priesthood.

The 300-acre Loudon Park Cemetery, on part of the neighborhood's eastern border, was created in 1853 and after the Civil War was purchased by the federal government to be used as a national cemetery.

Loudon Park is the final resting place for many notable Baltimoreans, including Sun journalist H. L. Mencken and Mary Pickersgill, maker of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner" during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814.

The large detached frame homes at Chapelgate and Overton roads were built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, while most of the rowhouses in Beechfield were developed after World War II and into the 1960s.

Some groups of rowhouses were rental units but were sold as single-family homes in the 1960s and 1970s.

Most everyone in the community seems to be getting more involved, and, to Robert Mack, Gray's predecessor, that is what a neighborhood is about.

To him, a neighborhood is not a collection of strangers. "We just don't pass each other on the street, we look out for each other," said Mack.

Beechfield

ZIP code: 21229

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Beechfield Elementary, North Bend Elementary, West Baltimore Middle, Southwestern High.

Shopping: Frederick Avenue in Catonsville, Westview Shopping Mall

Homes on market: 24

Average listing price: $61,312*

Average sales price: $60,148*

Average days on market: 168

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 98%*

* Based on 38 sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (www.homesdatabase.com).

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