Irvington remains `a nice place to live'

Neighborhood profile : Irvington

Their `forgotten city' holds best of 2 worlds for its contented residents

August 18, 2002|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A silent brethren of tombstones lead the way. Some slightly tilted, many weathered with age, they mark the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, heroes of the world wars, local celebrities and virtual unknowns. Beyond the fence, traffic flows steadily along Frederick Avenue.

Welcome to Irvington - at the cusp of the city-county line, caught between the drama of urban life and the sedate, rural seclusion of tree-lined streets and quiet, family homes.

"Sometimes I feel like it's a forgotten city," says Young Kim Anderson, the new president of the Irvington Community Association.

Or perhaps it's the best of both worlds.

Irvington extends from Caton Avenue westward to Beechfield Avenue and from Old Frederick Road in the north to Wilkens Avenue in the south. Within its boundaries is a medley: Victorian houses with wraparound porches, Italianate homes, wood-frame detached houses, duplexes, garden apartments, brick rowhouses and bow-shaped "swell-front" houses. It also contains a business district, a shopping center, five churches, two schools and a monastery.

Although the official naming of Irvington came in 1874, records of the property date to the 1600s, when it belonged to the estate of Charles Calvert, third Lord Baltimore. Before the end of the 17th century, the estate was divided. Thomas Coale, a Quaker from Anne Arundel, owned the 450-acre tract called "Maiden's Choice," which today includes Loudon Park Cemetery.

Frederick Avenue, originally a Native American trail, was once used by trappers as they came into Baltimore Town to peddle their wares. Recently, the federal government awarded Frederick Avenue the American Road Designation in recognition of its significance as part of the original Route 40, leading to Cumberland.

For Anderson, moving to Irvington was a dream come true. "My friends from home say, `The first thing I want when I come to America is to touch the grass, and to have a porch and a flag hanging down.' I say to them, `I've got it all,'" she beams.

She is an avid spokeswoman for the area. A small woman with a warm smile, Anderson is candid about Irvington and how she got there. "A lot of my friends lived around here. They said, `Come. Move here. It's great. It's affordable,'" she explains. "I am Korean, and my husband is African-American. My friends said, `You won't have any trouble here.' And it was so true."

She pauses for a moment and adds, "When I looked around the area, the first house I saw was a bungalow with a big porch - and I love a big porch, where I can sit on my rocking chair and read a book or talk to neighbors. That's exactly what it's like here."

Anderson's husband shared her immediate love for the area. So they and their children moved from Towson to their new home with its big porch. In June, she took on the role of association president after the unexpected death of the Rev. Carlton Green, former president and local coalition builder.

According to Dorothy Dobbyn, of Southwest Seven Neighborhood Housing Services, Irvington's strong community bonds are a main attraction to homebuyers. Located in the 4000 block of Frederick Ave., the branch office of Neighborhood Housing Service of Baltimore provides assistance to those looking to buy or rehab houses in the area. It provides counseling, low-interest loans and referrals.

"People new to the community have moved here because it is so family-oriented, and it is such a nice community - well-treed, with lots of open space and wide streets," Dobbyn says.

Five years ago, Mount St. Joseph High School replaced its fence with a new iron one that enables passers-by to freely admire the 150-year-old campus.

Recently, the owner of Irvington's neighborhood thrift center rallied support from the city to help build a pillared brick fence around her store and the nearby community space, in an effort to retain businesses and attract new ones. For prospective homebuyers, says Dobbyn, the improvements are appealing.

Affordability is another perk. The average current list price is under $55,000.

For Theresa Weyandt, it was the terrain. "I came by one day to visit, and I just felt it was such a lovely area," she says. "There are a lot of trees here, and at that time the trees met. In the late summer and early fall, it was just like going through a huge bower of trees. And the flowers - almost every house had azaleas at that time. It was just a lovely, quiet place."

Weyandt rented an apartment there until buying her own house next door. She has lived in the area for 37 years, and she has observed the changes.

Years ago, the commercial strip along Frederick Avenue had it all: a grocery store, movie theater, old-fashioned drugstore with a soda fountain, and bakeries. "It was just so convenient. On Sunday morning, you came out of church and you could smell fresh, baked goods. It was like a homey little town," Weyandt recalls.

She acknowledges that things have changed. The grocery store, movie theater, soda fountain and bakeries have long since closed. Today, the business district boasts an eclectic mix, including a thrift shop, beauty salon, corner drugstore, a privately managed senior living center and an open space for community gardening.

"Even after all these years, it's still a nice place to live," she says.

Irvington

ZIP code: 21229

Commute to downtown: 40 blocks, 10 minutes

Public schools: Beechfield Elementary, West Baltimore Middle, Southwestern High

Shopping: downtown Baltimore, Inner Harbor, Catonsville shopping district

Homes on market: 25

Average listing price: $41,845

Average sale price: $40,816

Average days on market: 172

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 97.54%

Units sold: 42

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