Guilford mansion enjoyed a more pleasant reputation

April 13, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

I'VE ALWAYS admired the fine Georgian-style windows, slate roof and brickwork of 3903 Greenway, the house that has been in the news of late as the home of Mark L. Perkins, the recently resigned president of Towson University, which somehow wound up with a $2 million bill attached.

It is one of many stately Guilford mansions on a street that looks dreamy on a cool April evening, when the whole neighborhood is all pink, purple, white and light green, thanks to a spectacular show of vegetation and the presence of some dedicated gardeners.

I won't get into the Perkins troubles, but I will consider the house. I've never been inside it, but I've known two of its storied owners.

The place is a beauty, one of Guilford's glories, a fine 1926 piece with groomed Palladian manners and crisp architectural symmetry, the work of designers Palmer and Lamdin. It was custom-built for the president of the old National Bank of Baltimore, one John Schoenewolf and his wife, Lucretia. About 15 years ago, I watched his downtown office, at the northeast corner of Baltimore and St. Paul streets, get knocked down for a new office building.

His home, on the other hand, has fared much better - I can never recall a time when this Greenway house was ever in less than perfect condition. (It must be a daunting experience to own a Guilford home; I think the residents there vie with each other to maintain their homes in super-scrubbed, pristine order.)

The Greenway residence was not Schoenewolf's only Baltimore address. The child of immigrants from Germany, he was born here. As a young man, he owned a grocery business. By the turn of the 20th century, he was living at 818 N. Carrollton Ave. facing Lafayette Square in West Baltimore. He then moved to a place called Mount Doris on Norwood Avenue in Catonsville.

Having ascended to the bank's presidency, he built the home that has been so in the news.

So far as I can tell, the house then passed to John J. Carlin, known to Baltimoreans as the owner of Carlin's Park at Park Circle in Northwest Baltimore. We remember him for his Mountain Speedway coaster, his ice hockey games and the many great big-band orchestras of the 1930s and 1940s that serenaded dancers at his arena.

John Carlin died in 1954, and the house became the property of his four children.

A year later, I wound up in kindergarten with his granddaughter, Elizabeth; nine years after that I met another grandchild, Bill Beers, when both of us were being tortured in Latin at Loyola High School. I also spent many a happy day and evening in Bill's home, where his mother, Eleanor, and aunt, another Elizabeth, threw some the best parties I've ever attended. Their North Baltimore homes - located not too far from Greenway - were filled with many of the treasures that once filled their father's residence.

I'll never forget a birthday party I attended in the Beers-Carlin dining room. I went back to my own home, gushed to my great Aunt Cora about the prowess of the kitchen and the high standards of entertainment. She informed me that if I didn't like the way she threw a birthday party, I could find a new address. My brother Eddie still uses the recipes Eleanor Carlin Beers passed to him 35 years ago.

After Carlin's death, the Greenway home was sold to commission merchant Edward C. O'Dell, the godfather of interior designer John G. Ford, who moved into 3903 in 1955 and lived there for the next 46 years. He and his wife, Berthe, searched the Earth for the collection of art they amassed and recently gave to the Walters Art Museum. John Ford also gave 3903 a distinctive touch it retains - black lacquer detailing in the window mullions.

And when they decided they did not need a big house on Greenway, it went on the market and passed to Towson University. Then the troubles began.

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