In a young century, neighborhoods are more than old: They're historic

Many city enclaves seek recognition on registers

September 19, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Somehow, the word has spread from one Baltimore community to another, most recently reaching Cedarcroft: Get with the historic register programs.

In the past two years - thanks in part to a recognition at the turn of the century that neighborhoods are reaching a ripe old age - nearly a dozen Baltimore communities have sought or landed historic status. Before that, officials said, the pace was more like one or two a year.

"We've seen a tremendous increase in designations as we got close to the millennium," city historic preservation official W. Edward Leon said. "People realized: `Our neighborhood was started 105 years ago.' It's a booming time."

Communities decide whether to apply for national or local designation, each of which has incentives, including tax credits or consultants.

Guilford was listed as a national historic district, while Ten Hills was designated a city historic district, both on July 19. The city Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) offers staff to advise neighborhood leaders on the months-long application process.

One big difference between local and national designation, Leon said, is that the city historic district listing requires exterior remodeling changes to be approved by the CHAP office, while the National Register of Historic Places doesn't have design review restrictions.

The national register listing also makes residents eligible to apply for the state's heritage tax credit program for rehabilitating structures of historic value, said Preservation Maryland programs director Elise Butler. A city historic listing carries with it certain protections against demolition or development, Leon said.

In Cedarcroft, an informal survey was conducted this summer to see if the community of 135 households preferred either or both designations.

"People were overwhelmingly in favor or proceeding [on both fronts]," Brenda Ready, a longtime resident and historic district committee member, said yesterday. "These are pretty houses with large porches and a variety of architectural styles, a lot from the 1920s, when they knew how to build. It says a lot for Baltimore, not just our individual communities, to have that prestige."

Cedarcroft is among several locales - including Better Waverly, Tuscany-Canterbury, Lauraville, Stone Hill, and two police district buildings built in the 1890s (the old Northern and Southern districts) - in various stages of the process toward recognition as a local or national historic district or structure.

A new joint venture of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust is helping communities hire consultants needed to apply for national register listing. The program requires a 10 percent cash match from the community for each grant.

Seven city neighborhoods have received more than $80,000 total from the partnership to apply for the national historic designation, Butler said, including Washingtonville-Cow Hill on the northern city-county border. Some others are Patterson Park in East Baltimore and Franklintown and Windsor Hills in West Baltimore.

Tuscany-Canterbury, a neighborhood of English Tudors, brick rowhouses and Italianate homes, received a grant of $3,500 to apply for the national designation and is well on its way to being approved, city officials said.

The Lauraville and Stone Hill neighborhood associations received $13,320 and $12,400 respectively. Both retained architectural historian and consultant Betty Bird, who prepared the technical maps and details demanded by the application.

"It can be hard to get off the ground otherwise," Bird said, referring to the applications. She described both communities as "wonderfully cohesive."

Lauraville, in Northeast Baltimore, was an early commuter suburb in the 20th century, she said, with curvilinear streets and large houses off the main corridor of Harford Road.

Stone Hill is a tightly defined knot of 24 stone cottages and duplexes built by Mount Vernon Mills in the mid-1840s and 1850s, overlooking the Jones Falls. "It's vernacular mill housing in an urban setting, very rural and intact, like stepping back in time," Preservation Maryland's Butler said.

"We call it all carrot and no stick in terms of the benefit it brings to most communities, especially those that are architecturally significant and on the verge of a rebirth," she said of the grant program.

In the city historic review process, city officials do much of the legwork. Leon said he has photographed "each and every" house and significant structure, such as a church, school or post office, and landmarks such as sculptures in Ten Hills, and will soon do the same in Better Waverly.

"We're consultant-free," Leon said. "Almost every neighborhood in Baltimore has its story."

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