An advocate for third stories with large windows to city

October 09, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

ON a recent walk around South Baltimore and parts of Canton, I saw how true the newspaper stories were about people building an additional story to Baltimore's expanse of two-story rowhouses. New third floors are going up the way pressure-treated lumber roof decks went on 20 years ago.

I lived on the third floor of my family's Guilford Avenue rowhouse for about 25 years, and never thought much about it.

When you grow up in a house that comes with a third floor, it's nothing special. I always felt the better rooms were on the second floor. I thought my room was like a cheaper seat in the upper balcony at the Hippodrome; that said, I would not have traded it for anything.

I had the third floor back, meaning my windows faced east and south, and was the farthest from the front door. Because the house sat atop a hill, and most all the other houses on the block were only two stories, I could see right downtown, the harbor, the old Sears Roebuck building and the American Brewery. When there was a big fire or fireworks, the rest of the family would come up for a visit. But that extra flight of stairs discouraged visitors.

I can recommend building a third story to those seeking privacy and quiet in an often-crowded and noisy city. There were 12 in our household and most of the time, I had no idea what was happening downstairs. I had not a clue what Great Aunt Cora, who had the third floor front, was doing, for that matter, other than usually smoking a Chesterfield and reading a Ngaio Marsh murder mystery. I think I could hear the foot treadle on her non-electric sewing machine.

Her room was larger and had a spectacular closet with its own gas jet and space for her astounding hat collection, but lacked my panoramic city view. Once, when a Loyola College building caught fire, she hoisted herself out her window to locate the smoke cloud in order to give general directions to a cab driver a few minutes later when we all chased the fire engines.

Our third floor had its own skylight over the stair hall; certainly none of my schoolmates had anything so old-fashioned. But come to think of it, skylights came back into fashion too.

I liked waking to the morning light up in that sanctuary. Its windows were big, which means cold air came in, but the arrival of the sun made me a morning person. I remember going along the time the winter curtains were bought for the room. I think they hailed from the old Epstein's domestic department on Light Street. They were yellow and lasted more than 20 years.

The windows shades, the heavy paper variety we like here, changed, of course, in winter and summer. Even those old summer dark blue blinds could not completely mask the radiance of a brilliant June morning.

This leaves me with advice for those building their own third floors: Don't make the windows too small. Baltimore's got a great skyline and interesting geography. We also have spectacular fires, and fireworks.

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