10-acre lake and park refresh old city suburb

Neighborhood Profile: Hanlon

In 1920s, it offered space and the trolley

May 20, 2001|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Peggy Murphy could've easily bought a home in one of Baltimore's surrounding counties.

But then she probably wouldn't have a 10-acre lake and a park two minutes from her doorstep. And she would've paid a great deal more to get the kind of house she has in Hanlon.

"If I attempted to purchase the same house in Baltimore County, with all the things the way I want, it would've cost $250,000 and up," said Murphy.

Her newly renovated home, which once had nine bedrooms and about 100 windows, now has five bedrooms and 30 windows in addition to a new kitchen, a spiral staircase and cathedral ceilings.

Hanlon is a quiet city neighborhood nestled against the west side of Hanlon Park, next to the Gwynns Falls Parkway. It has many large homes such as Murphy's that could be renovated for a fraction of the cost of a new home of the same size.

Starting about the mid- 1920s, Baltimoreans were looking to build suburban homes but still wanted to be within walking distance of the streetcar that took them to work. With Lake Ashburton and Hanlon Park nearby, Hanlon was a perfect location. To Murphy, it still is.

"I lived in Federal Hill and Owings Mills, but when it came time to buying a house, I wanted to live in an African-American community that was affluent and mature," said Murphy who knew of the neighborhood from her childhood visits to her grandmother.

She also wanted a large home with nice appointments like the original, handcrafted kitchen cabinets she refinished to go with her new island counter and breakfast nook.

The house was originally a single-family dwelling. It was broken up into a three-unit apartment building before Murphy restored it to single-family status. The three-story house has an office and study that take up the third floor, a club room in the basement and a spacious master bedroom suite on the second floor.

Murphy's home shows the potential of many of the city's old suburban neighborhoods when it comes to detached single-family living. Most of the homes are architecturally distinctive and quite spacious. Even mansions overlook the lake from Longwood and Hilton streets.

Not all of Hanlon is made up of big houses. In fact, it has a larger percentage of rowhouses, which date from the 1920s to the 1950s. They can be purchased for from the mid-$40,000 range to the low $70,000s. Miriam Jordan of the Ellicott City office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA is listing two Hanlon homes, each with three bedrooms, one for $45,000 and the other for $66,000.

Big houses in the city are a double-edged sword, according to Murphy, a past president of the Hanlon Improvement Association.

While they make great rehabilitation projects, many have been turned into apartments run by absentee landlords. "The owners don't keep up the property," she grumbled.

Murphy even purchased an adjacent rear lot because it wasn't being kept up. She is now landscaping the property.

"Absentee owners of rentals are becoming more of a problem," said Elise Mason, a 22-year resident and the current president of the neighborhood association. As the people who live in Hanlon age, their houses are sold and turned into rentals.

But Mason's biggest concern is that the city is subsidizing corporations downtown at the expense of neighborhoods like Hanlon. "What goes on outside downtown will impact downtown. We don't have money for anything like a benefits district like they have," she said, referring to districts that can afford to pay higher property taxes to get better services.

Trying to maintain city services is Mason's main battle. Hanlon Park, the community's jewel where residents jog and kids play, has seen a decline in services, she said.

Murphy added that there is a critical need for a recreation center there.

Hanlon now stands where estates of Baltimore's wealthy once stood, principally "Highlands," an estate that was sold to a real estate developer named Charles Wilson.

According to Roderick Ryan's "Northwest Baltimore and its Neighborhoods 1870-1970," Wilson created Highland Park, a development that included a 250-room hotel that eventually failed in 1876.

In 1889, the Josephites, members of a Roman Catholic order, were given the building and property. They founded a seminary called Epiphany College that was there until 1925 when it moved to New York. The property was then sold to developers.

Lake Ashburton was built as a reservoir in 1909 and has been an oasis for the neighborhood ever since, including a popular place to sleep on hot summer nights before the advent of air conditioning, a scene portrayed in Barry Levinson's film "Avalon."

Residents still shop at Mondawmin Mall at Gywnns Falls Parkway and Liberty Heights. Quick access to shopping or work is made possible by taking the Gwynns Falls Parkway, which was originally designed in 1916 to be a scenic connector between Gwynns Falls and Druid Hill parks.

With such proximity to the downtown and with a park in its back yard, Hanlon could be an up-and-coming neighborhood. But it needs a boost.

"We need help to market this community. We can't do it on our own," says Murphy.


ZIP code: 21216

Commute to downtown: 10 minutes

Public schools: : Hilton Elementary School, Gwynns Falls Elementary, William H. Lemmel Middle, Walbrook High

Shopping: Mondawmin Mall, Security Square Mall

Homes on market: 8

Average listing price: $57,243

Average sale price: $54,881

Average days on market: 129

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 95.87%

Based on 16 sales in past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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