Victorian delight, fixed in time

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE : LUTHERVILLE

Baltimore County village offers quiet, convenience minutes from downtown

April 28, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Twenty-five minutes north of the hustle and bustle of downtown Baltimore lies the quiet and idyllic Baltimore County village of Lutherville, a Victorian confection so lovely and pristine that comparisons with Cape May, N.J., would not be an understatement.

Ringed by Interstates 695 and 83, and surviving the ever widening commercial sprawl of York Road, Lutherville remains fixed in time, offering residents and visitors a quiet respite from the pressures and stress of 21st-century living.

This year, the little village founded in 1852 by two Lutheran clergymen, Dr. John Gottlieb (Godlove) Morris and Dr. Benjamin Kurtz, turns a sprightly 150. It began as a resort for the affluent to escape the eternal humid damnation of Baltimore summers, evolving into a year-round community.

Pamela S. Nixon and her husband, George "Bud" Nixon, are the third owners of "Hazelwood," built in 1901. They have lived there since 1979.

"Bud grew up in Stoneleigh, and I was raised in Wiltondale, so we both wanted to live in a quaint little village like Lutherville," Pamela Nixon said.

"We're celebrating our 150th year with a Lutherville house tour Oct. 12. There will be 15 or 16 houses, four churches and College Manor open for the tour," said Nixon, who is co-chairwoman of the tour, the details of which will be announced in the near future.

Through the years, Lutherville has grown beyond its original borders. In the 1980s and 1990s, Seminary Overlook, Hillside at Seminary and other communities have been attracting buyers to the West Seminary Avenue corridor.

Bill Love, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said, "Lutherville is a very desirable location, and location is everything. It's close to schools, expressways and downtown Baltimore. There really isn't much to complain about."

He says that home shoppers in original Lutherville can expect to pay $200,000 to $300,000, with some of the more spacious homes near College Manor topping out at $600,000.

"The buyer profile would include young professionals in their late 20s to mid-30s who want to start a family and like the charm of the neighborhood," said Love, who added that there is not a great deal of turnover in homes.

"Properties here are very attractive. They have great appreciation and re-sale value, and that's due to the stability of the neighborhood," said Bob Lomonico, also an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

"The only problem is, there is very little inventory. Nothing stays on the market for long in Lutherville," he added.

Restoration seems to be a way of life in old, original Lutherville. Sounds of swinging hammers and the odor of fresh paint are everywhere. The sounds of struggling rototillers and piles of tanbark mulch mean that old gardens are being reclaimed while newer ones are being renewed.

In Michael Kurtz's book John Gottlieb Morris, Man of God, Man of Science, published in 1997 by the Maryland Historical Society, Kurtz explains Morris' motivation for the village, which sits atop a hill, overlooking the broad Dulaney Valley to the east and the spires and school buildings of St. Paul's School for Boys above the Jones Falls Valley to the west.

"Morris, the project's prime mover, envisioned a secluded, but not too distant, retreat for the city's elite, with the female boarding school as the community's focal point," Kurtz wrote.

Morris, who was pastor of the First English Lutheran Church in Baltimore, and his partner, Benjamin Kurtz, editor of The Lutheran Observer, purchased the 174-acre Brice estate for $7,000 and subdivided it into lots whose sale helped finance the building of the Lutherville Female Seminary.

Still one of the predominant buildings in Lutherville, the female academy and its campus on Seminary Avenue date to 1853 when its cornerstone was laid. The academy opened the next year.

The original building, whose architecture has been described as "collegiate Tudor," was a huge limestone structure with a center building and two wings. An observatory on the grounds enabled students to pursue celestial exploration.

In 1911, the college burned to the ground in a spectacular fire and was replaced by a white stucco structure with a profoundly military bearing. The college closed in 1952 and reopened as College Manor, a home for senior citizens.

Oak Grove, which dates to 1852 and was Morris' home until his death in 1895, is considered a superb example of Gothic Revival architecture. The whimsical, rambling structure, with a wide porch and topped by a standing-seam roof, sits on a large landscaped lot with ancient boxwoods.

A later inhabitant who grew up in the house is Baltimore filmmaker John Waters.

"His first film was made there, and he even filmed one on the roof," said Patricia Waters, John's mother, who lives with her husband at the Blakehurst retirement community in Towson.

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