BALTIMORE IS a great place to live, but you'd better have been born into the sixth generation of a local family to know its secrets. This town will not unfold itself to just anybody.
I'm not sure that what I'm about to recommend will satisfy all your curiosity about old Baltimore, but it will be a fine way to spend three successive Sunday afternoons in May. I speak of a trio of interesting house tours, one tomorrow at St. Paul and 22nd streets (the Old Goucher neighborhood), another in Fells Point on May 11 and the other, just over the Baltimore County line, in Bare Hills, adjacent to Lake Roland, on May 18.
I have long been a sucker for house tours. If you buy a ticket, you can snoop legally, pick up a lot of chatter about what's open for tourists, whether it's strictly accurate, or not. These little pilgrimages force you to walk around and see things you'd normally miss. They force the homeowners to clean up and garden; they force the walkers to wear sensible shoes.
I would add that both city neighborhoods are among my favorite walking spots, whether the doors are open or not.
Tomorrow's tour in and around the Victorian Goucher College area affords visitors the chance to see one of the city's more curious rebuilding projects, the corner house at 2100 St. Paul St., at 20th Street. It's the house with the clock, the striking exterior bell and the major side addition. Its owner, Durward Center, told me yesterday he wanted his newly created wing to mirror the architecture of the American Brewery and the old St. James Hotel. See for yourself. The tour runs from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., and includes a number of other stops.
Fells Point opens its doors on May 11 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). I recommend a walk here because this is one of Baltimore's most ancient neighborhoods - one that's seen remarkable change in the past 18 months. If you went on house tours here 20 years ago, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The tour starts at 808 S. Ann St.
The Bare Hills jaunt on May 18 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., sponsored by the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage) promises to be another eye-opener. It's a small community, to which I can say, in all honesty, I have never been. But, from about the age of 10, I've walked many times around its edges while at Robert E. Lee Park, otherwise known as Lake Roland. I've even taken the old Pennsylvania Railroad through Bare Hills in a day coach headed for Harrisburg, Pa., and, of course, I've been through the area on today's light-rail cars.
When I've been out there, I've always noticed the secluded houses through the trees, addresses so hidden and off-the-beaten path that only the mail carrier knows how to find them. I've also heard of one of this neighborhood's super-secret glories, the 1959 house designed by fabled architect Marcel Breuer.
The tour brochure says parking will be at Falls Road, north of Copper Hill Road. It also says you will have the opportunity to circulate among the houses on woodland trails. Sounds good to me.