A lakefront city enclave is dusting off wealthy past


One owner estimates his home would bring nearly $1.5. million in D.C.

November 09, 2003|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

John Crisman chipped off stucco from arches on the front porch of his house in Baltimore's Hanlon neighborhood on a recent warm Sunday afternoon.

The three story, six-bedroom English Tudor home has high ceilings, hardwood floors and ornate molding. It faces Lake Ashburton, a 29-acre city reservoir.

"I'm going to have this house forever," said Crisman, 53, who moved from Washington in April after buying the house for $119,700 and expects to spend $100,000 on renovations. "I plan on dying in this house."

A few doors down, another neighbor hammered a black shutter onto his large red brick home, which also overlooks the reservoir. A quick count reveals six large homes undergoing major renovations in a two-block area of northern Hanlon, a small neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore that's hoping to turn the corner.

Longtime residents say this once-prominent neighborhood suffered during the late 1980s and early 1990s as homeowners got older and couldn't afford to keep up their houses. Younger people left the city for the suburbs. In some cases, families that inherited homes did not maintain the dwellings or left them vacant.

Today, boarded-up houses and overgrown lawns stand next to recently renovated properties.

"We've started something here," said Tony Wade, who is renovating his Hanlon home. "It is infectious."

Made up of 55 blocks, Hanlon - officially recognized as Hanlon-Longwood on city maps because Longwood Avenue serves as its western border - is nestled between Hanlon Park, Gwynns Falls Parkway and Garrison Street. Home to about 2,600 residents, the predominantly black neighborhood's population has declined slightly since 1990.

The little-known enclave has a strong neighborhood association that is bent on increasing the exposure of the community.

The average sales price for a home in Hanlon was a little more than $57,000 in the past year. Seven homes sold during that time.

Several houses listed are priced at a little more than $100,000. The area has an eclectic mix of housing, from large single-family homes to the familiar rowhouses that dominate much of Baltimore's architecture.

The area was once home to some of Baltimore's wealthiest families. During the 1920s, families moved to Hanlon and surrounding neighborhoods such as Walbrook and Forest Park to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown, according to Ryon Roderick's Northwest Baltimore and Its Neighborhoods.

A network of streetcar lines kept downtown within reach of the area, said Eric Holcomb, a historic preservationist for the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

The first few waves of residents took good care of their homes, said Ruby Couch, who has lived in Hanlon for more than 50 years. Many of the homes have changed hands only two or three times. Couch said the neighborhood has been declining in the past 15 years.

"We had the death of older parents, leaving their homes to children," Couch said. "Many of the children did not maintain their homes. They had a different value system. They wanted nice cars, fancy clothes, good times. The houses were neglected."

Elise Jude Mason, president of the Hanlon Improvement Association, said the aging population also is partly responsible for dilapidation. With a great proportion of the population on a fixed income, there is little money left over for home improvements.

But many new residents believe the area offers value to those with the vision and the money to see potential in the neglected properties.

Crisman estimated that a similar property in Washington would have cost him close to $1.5. million.

Wade lived in Queens for 20 years before buying a three-story, six-bedroom white Victorian house with a wraparound porch on Carlisle Road near the reservoir. He paid $130,000 for the property two years ago.

"I liked the size, the flavor of it," Wade said. "It was in need of some love."

About $30,000 in renovations included the restoration of original stained-glass windows. There's even a gym on the third floor. Wade has done much of the work himself but the house needed a new roof and furnace.

In addition to good housing stock, Hanlon Park has always been a big draw for the neighborhood. Runners, walkers and bikers often use the paved path that circles the reservoir. Tennis and basketball courts are available in the park.

The park provided both lazy days of recreation and athletic conditioning for at least one prominent Baltimorean. Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke spent some of his childhood in the southern section of Hanlon. Schmoke is now the dean of Howard University Law School and lives just north of Hanlon in Ashburton.

"As a kid I ran from Gwynns Falls up to the reservoir, went around twice," he said. "That kept me in shape for football."

A group of 19 neighborhood associations in the northwest are working with the city to revitalize commercial districts in the main corridors, including Garrison and Liberty Heights.

In Hanlon, however, their primary focus is attracting families who want to invest time and money in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood boosters have their work cut out for them with some local real estate agents. Although Hanlon sits between two busy roads, calls to five agents who sell property in Baltimore yielded no one familiar with the neighborhood.

"Hanlon doesn't even strike a bell," said Bettye Gray, an agent who has been selling houses in Baltimore for 16 years. "I've never heard of it."


Zip code: 21216

Commuting time to downtown: 20 minutes

Public schools: Hilton Elementary School, William H. Lemmel Middle School, Garrison Middle School, Walbrook High School

Shopping: Mondawmin Mall, Reisterstown Plaza

Homes on market: 6

Average list price : $58,971 *

Average sale price: $57,057 *

Average days on market: 194 *

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 97 percent ** Based on seven sales during the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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