Old Pimlico Road once attracted revelers from city

WAY BACK WHEN

November 17, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

A colorful chapter in the history of Northwest Baltimore - where Al Capone once had a hideout and revelers came to dance the night away - was closed this week with the news that Bonnie View Country Club will be moving to make way for more housing.

The club, whose 167-acre golf course on Smith Avenue sprawls across the city-county line near Mount Washington, announced that it would move within two years to a new home near Reisterstown.

The move, Bonnie View officials said, is contingent on the $15 million sale of the club to Stavrou Associates of Lanham, which plans to build a retirement community on the property.

The decision also will mean the demise of the Summit Country Club on Old Pimlico Road, in whose back yard were several holes of the Bonnie View golf course.

Old-timers recall the days when that part of Old Pimlico Road was a favorite destination of Baltimoreans looking for a good time.

During the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, from spring until fall, revelers drove their Packards, Chryslers and Marmons up the windy two-lane road to the Summit Supper Club or Summit Night Club, a roadhouse right out of a John O'Hara novel. Couples sipped Manhattans or rye and water and danced wild rumbas into the wee hours.

Joseph Brothman had purchased the large white framed shingled building with a center hall and four large rooms in 1923. He installed a nightclub on the first floor while his family lived on the second.

During Prohibition, college students came to attend tea dances, but once the ban on alcohol was lifted, the Summit became the venue for some of the most well-known bands of the era.

"Guy Lombardo played the Summit in 1931," Sig Brothman, son of the owner, told The Evening Sun in 1978.

Isham Jones, Ozzie Nelson, Stan Kenton, Ben Polock, Glenn Miller and the Dorsey brothers also played the Summit, he said.

"But I remember one summer night in 1939. Louis Prima was playing. We probably had 700 people out there, and I mean out there - Pimlico Road was a one-lane gravel track out in the wilderness. The trees around the porch were rigged with colored lights. Inside, people were dancing to Louis Prima's orchestra. He played a lot of lively songs with an Italian tarantella rhythm - fantastic stuff," said Brothman.

The club later was owned by Philip Ellis, whose proprietorship during the late 1940s and early 1950s was beset by tax troubles. He sold the club in 1955, and a year later, it made its debut as the Summit Surf and Country Club, a private club.

But the Summit was only part of the area's colorful history. During 1939 and 1940, the nation's most infamous mobster, Al Capone, recuperated in an undisclosed house on Old Pimlico Road after being released from Union Memorial Hospital, where he had been treated for syphilis.

In 1963, a spectacular three-alarm fire that could be seen as far away as Towson destroyed the old club. The next year, the present 17,000-square-foot structure that combines brick, glass weld and tinted glass, was built.

Change began sweeping through the area in the 1980s, when developers built The Falls, a townhouse community, which was followed by another townhouse community near the Jones Falls Expressway and Old Pimlico Road.

More change came when Waitman Zinn, who had lived in the area for nearly 50 years, sold his 200-acre farm Tramore. It's three-story white clapboard home, red barn, outbuildings and tenant house had long been landmarks to motorists traveling on Old Pimlico Road.

Developers were hoping to save the home, but it was destroyed by fire. Today, all the farm's buildings are gone and in Zinn's old cornfields stand large single-family homes that span the area from Old Pimlico Road to Greenspring Avenue.

Even the old Summit club has new tenants. A yeshiva operated by Bais Hamedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, with an enrollment of 75 students, is housed in the former clubhouse.

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