Block is official home to local house history

Designation: A clapboard bungalow is the last of eight East Broadway residences to be recognized for its old charm.

January 25, 2004|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Mary Towers and Bart Bodt decided to move from their Bel Air townhouse into a more spacious home in the same area, they knew one thing: They did not want a cookie-cutter house.

What they found was anything but that. The couple ended up purchasing a 1930s bungalow in Ingleside.

Shortly after moving in last year, they applied for and received local historic designation for the house. Their home was the last of eight along the 300 block of East Broadway that had been surveyed and were eligible to be nominated for local historic status.

"It's neat to be the family that finishes the street," Towers said. "We knew within the first hour of looking at the house that we wanted it. We knew it was going to take a lot of work, but we were both motivated to do it."

As soon as the couple and their three children moved into the house they began major renovations that are still under way. The historic designation allowed them to take advantage of tax credits for renovations to the structure's exterior, but did not restrict them from making the changes they wanted.

"I think that's important to point out," Towers said. "Even though this house is historic, there's still plenty of leeway to make renovations. You're not tied to such criteria that you can't make it your own home."

Built in the mid-1920s, the clapboard bungalow is known as the Harlan House. It's named, according to the town of Bel Air, after Edwin W.H. Harlan, son of Judge William Henry Harlan. Judge Harlan's partner, Col. Edwin H. Webster, was the father of J. Edwin Webster, who subdivided Ingleside.

The historic designation completes a long-held goal of the Bel Air Historic Preservation Commission - the creation of a unified historic area. A ninth house on the block was never surveyed and is not eligible for the designation.

"The fact that they are all local historic sites completes this neighborhood," said Jenny King, a planner for the town of Bel Air who also handles historic preservation.

The property owner must initiate historic site designation. Buildings must be at least 50 years old, be of historic, archaeological or architectural significance and meet general criteria for consideration for historic designation.

The town also offers a 10 percent tax credit, which may be spread over five years for the cost of exterior renovation approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. A 5 percent property tax credit is available for compatible new construction.

King said the block is charming and is characteristic of the era in which the homes were built.

"The block is lined by trees, and there's a sense of place when you turn on the street," King said.

The home styles on the block run the gamut. A few are kit houses from Sears, Roebuck & Co., which offered a "modern homes" division from 1908 to 1940 that supplied and shipped building plans and materials. Others are Dutch Colonials, and one was designed by Better Homes and Gardens .

"When there became several property owners on the block with the designation, the other property owners became extremely excited about it as well," King said. "Basically it was a domino effect."

The first house to receive the historic designation was that of Steve and Karen Chizmar, who bought their home 20 years ago and have made extensive renovations while keeping the architecture intact.

Both have served on the town's Historic Preservation Commission. Karen Chizmar is its current chairwoman.

"When I got on the commission I thought you should be a proponent of what you are volunteering for," said Karen Chizmar, who won the designation about six years ago.

After the first house was listed as historic, the Chizmars hoped others on the block would do the same.

King put together packets of information on how to apply for designation and why, and Karen Chizmar handed them out to her neighbors.

"That's how it snowballed," Chizmar said. "It just got people interested."

The Chizmars' house is known as the Ripken-Chizmar House, named in part after William and Shirley Ripken - Cal Ripken Sr.'s brother and sister-in-law - who purchased the house in 1958. The house dates to 1926 and was a Sears kit house.

Chizmar said the homes in the block are a great example of what Bel Air homes were like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"Bel Air is a community of modest homes; we're not Annapolis or Ellicott City or Washington, D.C., but we represent what working-class people lived in," she said. "And that's something to be proud of. It's OK to live in a bungalow and preserve it or a Sears kit house. That's what Bel Air was all about - a community of clapboard homes. It doesn't make us any less worthy than any other historic area."

Patrick and Laurie Wallis didn't have to be told their house was historic and worth preserving. Patrick's grandparents had the house built. Patrick's father was a former editor of The Aegis.

When the opportunity came to purchase the house after his grandmother passed away, the Wallises, who had just married, decided to buy it.

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