Homewood apartments once offered quiet, comfortable refuge

July 08, 2000|By JACQUES KELLY

THE GAUDY sign and the loud-colored awnings proclaiming a new Ruby Tuesday restaurant are now hanging across the front of the venerable Homewood Apartments on Charles Street at 31st, the last address in the world of my youth where I would have ever expected to see a food operation.

The old Homewood, constructed in the era of President William Howard Taft (1909-1913), was once among the most sedate addresses in Baltimore. It was the apartment house where you moved to be quiet, undisturbed and comfortable.

Times change. Today the Homewood is a residence for Johns Hopkins University students.

I spent quite a few Saturdays at the Homewood. That was the day when the porters brought out the big floor-polishing machines and buffed everything underfoot. They even raised a sheen on the basement floors.

The Homewood cellar was a world unto itself. The residents had their storage rooms there - wooden cribs where the steamer trunks and seasonal winter rugs rested.

Upstairs, the long corridors were dark. The apartments had wooden doors, all stained dark brown, with louvers to circulate air.

A woman I knew only as Miss Hicks ran the Homewood telephone switchboard, a central telephone bureau reached by dialing Belmont 5-2-500. You then asked her for the tenant you wished to speak to and Miss Hicks connected you. Were phone calls confidential? Only Miss Hicks knew.

My entry into all those Saturdays at the Homewood was Dorothy Croswell, a dear family friend who spent 20 years of her life residing next door to our Guilford Avenue home. When the steps to her third-floor apartment grew too much, she decided it was time to make a change. She found a first-floor vacancy at the old Homewood, overlooking Wyman Park.

The place was full of great Baltimore characters, with Dorothy herself often playing a leading role. Over the years, there was Fred Huber, director of municipal music, whose portrait hangs in full glory in the Lyric lobby. I also think of Dr. Arthur Kinsolving, longtime rector of Old St. Paul's Church, who retired here. Miss Natalie Merceret and Dr. Jane Goodlow, professor of something or other, were friends of my Aunt Cora. As a small child, I had to behave and sit still in their antique- and book-filled apartments. There were the Ritter sisters (rarely seen separated) who worked at St. Mary's Seminary. And the estimable Elizabeth Litsinger, chief of the Maryland Room at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library. It was quite a crew. If the Homewood's halls were quiet, the residents required it that way.

Many of the residents were the survivors of large families. As a result, they inherited the possessions of decades of their ancestors' living in Maryland.

I often think of the comment made by the late Wilbur Hunter, who ran the Peale Museum here for so many years.

I was taking his class in Baltimore history. The topic turned to Colonial Williamsburg and the du Pont estate, Winterthur, outside Wilmington, Del.

Hunter was lecturing on how antiques found their way into museums. And he remarked that you never know where rare antiques live. As a matter of fact, he said with a twinkle, "There are more antiques in the Homewood Apartments than in Winterthur or Williamsburg."

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