Arcadia is a nice little secret in Northeast Baltimore

Neighborhood profile

Endearing architecture in a charming setting

April 25, 2004|By Natasha Lesser | Natasha Lesser,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You might expect Kathleen Kotarba, Baltimore's head of architectural preservation, to live in one of the city's most recognized havens of preserved architecture: Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill or Roland Park.

But Kotarba doesn't call any of these home; instead she has chosen Arcadia, the Northeast Baltimore community that is not as well known as some of the other city addresses.

"We moved here because we really loved the architecture and the setting next to Herring Run Park," says Kotarba, who has lived in Arcadia for more than 20 years.

Kotarba was drawn to Arcadia's wide range of housing styles. She and her husband, Michael, live in a foursquare with what Kotarba describes as a wonderful front porch. There also are bungalows, cottages, duplexes and a few rowhouses. Styles include Arts and Crafts, Cape Cod, Queen Anne, Dutch Colonial, English Tudor and Spanish Revival.

But architecture isn't the only appealing aspect of Arcadia. Residents say the community is a pleasant, tightly knit, affordable place 20 minutes from downtown Baltimore.

"It's a neighborhood for people who love the city and support the city but want some breathing room," says Tom Rybczynski, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

Most of the homes have large back yards. And many residents take advantage of the 355-acre Herring Run Park, with its miles of biking and running trails, and fields for walking dogs or taking kids to play.

The enclave offers a strong sense of community, residents say.

The 81-year-old Arcadia Improvement Association remains a vigorous institution, keeping residents updated through a newsletter, The Arcadian; e-mails; and a Web site (

The group organizes block parties and a huge community yard sale.

It also is applying for national historic designation for the neighborhood, which would give residents tax credits for renovations and provide Arcadia with more control over development.

Many Arcadians praise the neighborhood's diversity.

"It was a white, middle-class neighborhood. It's still a middle-class neighborhood, but now there are African-Americans, Asians and alternate-style families living here. But we're still a community," says Betty Mayes, who has lived for more than three decades on Berkshire Road.

Mayes and her husband, Bob, love to go bird watching in Herring Run Park, which, like the neighborhood, is a semi-hidden gem.

"We've seen blue heron, mallard ducks, hawks, and orioles," Betty Mayes says.

The neighborhood also appeals to the Mayes' offspring. Their son, who lives down the block, is also an avid Herring Run birder. And one of their daughters lives three blocks away.

"You get a very tranquil atmosphere with the conveniences of living in the city," says Chuck Dicken, who until a few weeks ago, was head of the improvement association.

Driving downtown via Harford Road takes about 20 minutes; riding the bus requires about 30 minutes. The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital are an easy commute, too. In part for this proximity, many employees of both institutions live in Arcadia.

Residents' professions range widely, including teachers, city employees, graphic designers, artists and musicians.

Schooling options include local public schools, though many residents try to get their kids into city magnet schools, private schools or the nearby parochial schools, such as St. Francis of Assisi.

The neighborhood is bound by Herring Run Park on the west and the vast Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery on the east, barriers that prevent cut-through traffic, residents say. The northernmost section of the neighborhood extends to Harford Road.

Nearby neighborhoods include Lauraville, Waltherson, Moravia-Walther, Morgan Park and Beverly Hills, all part of Greater Lauraville. These neighborhoods have been working to improve the commercial area along Harford Road.

One success story is the 4-year-old Safeway. A group organized to solicit bids from supermarket chains to build a store on the lot of an abandoned bus barn, and Safeway won. Other popular spots include the Montebello Deli, Koko's Pub and the Chameleon Cafe, all within walking distance.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was home to farms and wealthy Baltimore merchants' country estates. By the beginning of the 20th century, electric streetcars were running along Harford and Belair roads, and the city was improving area roads. Development began soon after and boomed after 1918, when Baltimore annexed the area. Arcadia was named by one of the early developers, Stanley Carswell, who named it after the bucolic region in Greece.

In those days, most developers didn't construct block after block of identical houses, says Eric Holcomb, an Arcadia resident who also works for the city's department of architectural preservation and is the neighborhood's unofficial historian. Instead, developers sold plots to individuals or contractors who built whatever structures they wanted to.

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