It's not for sale. Don't even ask.

Magazine: A photograph of the historic mansion on the Johns Hopkins campus that appears in a `hot properties' section led to local concern and some calls. But it's not on the market.

January 28, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

HOMEWOOD: Four-bedroom, elegant family mansion, built in 1803, original hardwood floors, brick neoclassical style with white pillars and porch, large formal dining area, several fireplaces, walking distance to the Johns Hopkins University.

Sorry, but it's not for sale at any price -- no matter what you might read elsewhere. And you just might, because the latest issue of Architectural Digest has a full-page glossy photograph of the Hopkins campus' Homewood House in the magazine's "Hot Properties" section.

"We ain't going to sell," said Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea, after responding to about a half-dozen queries from people who called the campus to find out more about the mansion they saw displayed so prominently in the upscale magazine.

At least one chagrined would-be buyer has since learned that the advertisement, while certainly appearing to suggest the mansion is for sale, is a mistake, though the magazine's advertisers don't go so far as to call it that. They say their intention was merely to present the 200-year-old building as an architectural marvel on a page that preceded multimillion-dollar property listings for Sotheby's and other sellers.

The Homewood facade, however, is prominently displayed under a bold capitalized headline that proclaims "HOT PROPERTIES: Selections from the Mid-Atlantic." A telephone number also is listed for people to call.

When readers of the ad dialed the number, it rang in the mansion's gift shop, and answering some of the calls was Homewood campus security guard Edgar A.C. Curran. "I had to say no, it's not for sale," Curran said. "Then they'd ask, `Well, how could something like that happen?'"

Many of the callers were confused, and with good reason.

"When they say `hot properties,' what do you think?" Curran said.

The mansion was built by Charles Carroll Jr., the only son of one of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence. Perched atop the Hopkins campus overlooking North Charles Street, Homewood House now serves as a museum and one of the city's most treasured historic structures.

Historic treasure

University officials hastened to assure the public that there was never any thought of parting with the small masterpiece of early American architecture.

O'Shea, the university spokesman, said that seeing Homewood House pictured in the magazine "came as a great surprise to us."

"It's a great treasure to the university and the city and a critical inspiration to all the architecture on campus," O'Shea said.

It was a harmless misunderstanding, according to Frederick L. Comer, owner of Atlantic Media, the company that produced the mid-Atlantic real estate advertising section for Architectural Digest.

"People misconstrued it," Comer said. "Of course, there's nothing to suggest it's for sale. It's to make our readers aware of historic houses throughout the area."

Not everyone agrees. The "Hot Properties" picture also caught the eye of some Hopkins alumni, including Sujata Massey, a Baltimore mystery writer.

"I was really shocked and scared, and tried to find out how much it was worth," said Massey, who lives in Roland Park. "The placement was very misleading. I recognized those steps since I'm a big old-house buff."

Curator gets calls

The Homewood curator, Catherine Rogers Arthur, fielded a few calls. "The thought of the original on the market could set somebody's heart aflutter," she said.

Elizabeth Tune, a preservation officer with the Maryland Historical Trust, said she was somewhat alarmed. "I was really taken off guard," she said. "That is one of the foremost houses in Maryland."

The university campus sits on what was once the 130-acre Carroll estate, which had stables, gardens, servants and several slaves. While the university is dead-set against putting the mansion on the market block, there's no doubt it would fetch a tidy sum.

Twelve rooms on the main floor are filled with rich hues of yellow, mint green and robin's-egg blue, along with authentic Federal-style furniture, including a harp, a grandfather clock and a Baltimore-made secretary's desk.

Of course, a buyer would need to perform a few fix-ups to make it ready for modern life, particularly in the area of plumbing. A luxurious 1782 "night table" -- a rudimentary flush toilet -- is in a master bedchamber. A privy is still on the grounds, but a new homeowner might find the walk outside a bit chilly in winter.

Rare humor in ad

Stiles T. Colwill, an interior designer who worked on the 1980s restoration of Homewood, said it's rare to find humor in a real estate listing. "It's amusing to call it a hot property," he said. "You have to place it in its environment of top Baltimore real estate prices."

Colwill's estimate of Homewood House's fair asking price on the market, if it were for sale, was $7.5 million.

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