A `sleeper' neighborhood

Appeal: In the past year, Auchentoroly Terrace near Druid Hill Park has become a hot spot for homebuyers.

July 09, 2004|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

To celebrate his first birthday, the parents of David Miles Allen had an oak sapling planted in Druid Hill Park. The energetic 3-year-old can see his tree from his home window on Auchentoroly Terrace.

"These houses are good," said his mother, Cathy Allen, who has lived next to Druid Hill Park, northwest of Reservoir Hill, for seven years. "Where else can you find this elegance and square footage?"

In the past year, Allen and other Auchentoroly Terrace homeowners have been seeing a steady stream of outsiders looking for houses in their neighborhood.

Many other Baltimore neighborhoods would be apprehensive about profit-motivated outsiders' buying spree. But Auchentoroly Terrace residents have welcomed new investors. The more quickly long-neglected houses are repaired and occupied, the more quickly the neighborhood will regain its luster, those residents contend.

"You want your neighborhood to be a quality neighborhood," said Donna Cypress, who moved to Auchentoroly Terrace 24 years ago and spearheaded a recent campaign to designate the blocks closest to the park a historic district.

One of the outside buyers is Lily Tsui Lee, a Washington-area restaurant owner who got lost last summer while driving to a real estate auction in Baltimore. When she ended up on Eutaw Place and saw its faded opulence, she said, "my jaw just dropped, I was awed."

Inspired by her discovery, she kept driving. A few weeks later, after looking at a number of properties, she acquired a three-story rowhouse for $61,000 on Auchentoroly Terrace, a neighborhood of architecturally distinctive rowhouses, many with turrets.

She tore out much of the interior and turned the two-unit rental building into an airy single-family home. She hopes to rent it for $900 to $1,000 a month.

"Why Baltimore?" the North Potomac resident reflected. "I ask myself that question some times. There are certain neighborhoods that make you wonder. But Baltimore has much potential. Everything around it is very expensive; Baltimore remains very humble."

Many local house hunters may give a cold shoulder to Auchentoroly Terrace. But Lee is not the only Washingtonian who has discovered its rowhouses, which remained fashionable until World War II.

Washington buyer

Oral Harper, a Long & Foster real estate agent from Washington, acquired a three-story rowhouse on Auchentoroly Terrace last year. Bought for long-term appreciation, it is now his family's weekend home.

Harper said he was drawn to Baltimore because of nearby Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood making a comeback that was once among the city's most sought-after addresses. However, like Lee, he kept driving.

"When I saw the [Druid Hill Park] lake, I said. `Wow, this is interesting,'" Harper said. He was hooked.

When Auchentoroly Terrace was developed - between 1876 and the mid-1920s - it was part of early suburbanization that replaced large, old estates.

In 1860, one of those estates was bought by the city and became Druid Hill Park. The 674-acre expanse is the home of the Baltimore Zoo, the recently restored Conservatory, miles of carriage and bridle paths, and picnic groves. Until 1945, the city employed a shepherd to oversee about 300 sheep that grazed around the park.

Overwhelmingly Jewish, Auchentoroly Terrace was the first home of the nonsectarian Park School, which was established to provide a substitute for prestigious private schools of the time that excluded Jews. Shaarei Tfiloh, once the city's largest Orthodox synagogue, became another prominent landmark, at Auchentoroly Terrace and Liberty Heights Avenue.

A neighborhood historic footnote involves Whittaker Chambers, who lived briefly at 3310 Auchentoroly Terrace in 1936 before purchasing a farm in Carroll County. Twelve years later, the former communist produced alleged spy microfilms from a pumpkin patch on the farm. The revelation resulted in the perjury conviction of Alger Hiss, ending his promising career.

To Barbara Anderson-Dandy, a homeowner for 24 years, Auchentoroly Terrace's convenience is hard to beat. It is close to downtown and the transit center at Mondawmin Mall, a hub for buses and the Metro.


Despite those assets, the neighborhood deteriorated badly during the past two decades. In recent years, police crackdowns on open-air drug markets and sanitation sweeps have turned the tide.

When Kyle Bressant-Page, a transplanted New Yorker, first saw Auchentoroly Terrace, she was captivated by its ambience. Its rowhouse blocks stood as they had been originally designed, without gaps caused by demolitions that have destroyed the harmony of many other areas.

"The quality of architecture is at least as strong as what you would have in Reservoir Hill," said Bressant-Page, an architect working for a real estate auction house. In March, she bought two run-down rowhouses on Whittier Avenue. She paid $8,139 for one and $10,000 for the other, according to land records.

"This neighborhood is somewhat of a sleeper," said the Butchers Hill resident, who hopes to move to one of the rental units after the houses are rehabilitated. "You can't beat it, if you want to get in early."

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