Wyman Park prices double in decade


One of the attractions: There really is a park

March 07, 2004|By Natasha Lesser | Natasha Lesser,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Walk down Beech Avenue in Wyman Park and you'll see baby strollers on porch after porch. This has always been a family neighborhood.

And lately there has been a baby boom.

Wyman Park has become a haven for young professionals who are starting families and want the advantages of city life but with a little less bustle.

Peter Metsopoulos and his wife, Christine Grillo - the parents of 3 1/2 -year-old Enzo and 9-month-old Rita - are part of this wave. They moved to Baltimore three years ago from New York City so that she could attend the graduate writing program at the Johns Hopkins University.

"It has a younger, more urban feel without the problems of downtown neighborhoods," says Metsopoulos, who teaches at Bryn Mawr School.

This convenience doesn't appeal just to families. Singles and young couples also are moving to the neighborhood, says Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage real estate agent Anna Funkhouser.

"It's just very convenient," Funkhouser says. "And there's the park. They love the park."

Wyman Park takes its name from the park on the neighborhood's east side.

The narrow, 88-acre stretch of grass and woods is where many residents walk their dogs. David Chicherio and his wife, Lisa Loeb, moved to the neighborhood in 1993 from Long Island and have made many friends walking their dog, Oscar. Every morning at 7, he takes Oscar to meet other neighborhood dogs and owners.

"We have dog parties," Chicherio says.

During the late 18th century and the 19th century, the neighborhood was made up of a few large country estates. Baltimore annexed the area in 1888. Fourteen years later, wealthy landowner William Wyman donated 60 acres to Hopkins on the condition that some of the land be given to the city for parks. The area bears his name.

Older residents say Wyman Park always has been a middle-class neighborhood, populated largely by professionals such as schoolteachers, lawyers and newspaper reporters. The neighborhood, which extends from 33rd Street to 40th Street and from Keswick Avenue to the park, consists chiefly of two-story rowhouses.

Most of the houses date from 1905 to 1950, though some were built during the late 1880s. They vary from classic porch-fronts to Tudors and Colonials. The majority have three bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. The neighborhood also has several apartment buildings, including the Tudor Arms and the Wyman Park.

Residents say Wyman Park is ideally situated within walking distance of Hopkins, the Rotunda mall and "The Avenue" - 36th Street in Hampden. And it's a short drive from downtown.

"To be able to walk to a coffee shop and to let my son walk up the street barefoot to his friend's house, it's really close to idyllic," Metsopoulos says.

Houses for sale tend to go in less than a week and often sell for more than the asking price. Not long ago, Funkhouser put a Beech Avenue house on the market and had multiple offers in 24 hours.

Competition is heavy, Funkhouser says, and people often bid on multiple homes before succeeding in buying one. The average sales price has been about $190,000, though houses have more recently sold for $240,000, more than double the price of a decade ago.

One concern is that the new residents won't put down roots. When children reach school age, some families move to surrounding counties because they don't want to use city public schools and can't afford private school.

Some Wyman Parkers are hoping that more newcomers will stay put and try to improve local public schools.

That's because most residents say they like the neighborhood's tight-knit feel.

"People are mindful of each other. They keep an eye on each other," says Kathleen Talty, president of the Wyman Park Community Association.

Talty, a lawyer, has owned her house on Beech Avenue since 1992. One year she had a party and realized at the last minute that her refrigerator was too small to hold all the food. Talty's neighbors offered to store the rest, passing the food over the back deck.

The neighborhood association takes an active role in community life, organizing park cleanups, neighborhood watches and parties. The group sends out regular e-mails with neighborhood news and works with Hopkins, which has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the neighborhood.

During the 1960s and again in the 1980s, the university wanted to take a large portion of the park and turn it into a building and a parking lot.

The neighborhood association fought back and won.

These days, Talty says, the relationship is much better. With the association's blessing, the city allows the school to use the park's lower field for intramural sports. And the university consults the association when it has projects that could affect the neighborhood, such as the new buildings on San Martin Drive.

"We don't want to build walls," says Salem Reiner, the university's director of community affairs.

"We want to be part of the fabric of the community."

Even with all the newcomers, longtime residents say Wyman Park hasn't changed much.

"Everyone was so nice and so welcoming. If anyone needed help, they helped," says 83-year-old Angie Madonna, who has lived with her husband, Frank, in their house on Beech Avenue for more than half a century.

The neighborhood is still like that, old-timers say.

Some things have changed, though.

Prices have gone up. When the Madonnas bought their house in 1947, they paid $3,700. And those marble steps aren't quite as spotless as they used to be.

"We scrubbed the front steps every day," Madonna says. "They don't do that anymore."

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