City's pricey Otterbein is infused with history, and it's near stadiums


October 31, 2004|By Kathleen Cullinan | Kathleen Cullinan,SUN STAFF

Before it fell into disrepair, at the end of a dead-end street in a neighborhood on the brink of demolition, the townhouse at 137 W. Lee St. had for more than 200 years housed a broad range of people.

An aide to George Washington lived there during the early years, records say. It became a boardinghouse in 1870, and 22 people set up camp in its four bedrooms at one time.

And in 1978, an accountant bought the then-dilapidated four-story structure from the city for $1 and a promise to restore its grandeur.

Mary B. Gorman has lived in the home for 13 years now, occasionally touching up its original 10-foot doors, antique chandeliers and pine floors.

She chose the 4,000-square-foot home so her family of five would have enough space. As an Otterbein resident since 1981, she has long loved the eclectic, history-infused neighborhood around it.

"It's a really nice, old-fashioned neighborhood," said Gorman, an anesthesiologist at Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore. "People sit on their stoops. ... Everybody gets together and talks about their dogs."

What Otterbein - named after Philip William Otterbein, a German pastor in the 18th century - leaves to be desired in housing prices and availability for prospective buyers, it more than makes up for in neighborhood convenience and camaraderie, residents and housing experts say.

Only four houses are listed for sale in the area bordered by Hanover, Sharp, Barre and Henrietta streets, according to Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Federal Hill.

And while Long & Foster Realtor Joe Craig insisted their respective prices - between $749,000 and $899,900 - is unusually high, he said the average sale price for the 17 Otterbein homes sold this year was $304,900.

The current houses are "definitely a fluke," Craig said, but "it's very tight in there. There's generally not more than three or four houses available."

For those who get them, homes in this historic neighborhood are a varied bunch.

Bob Quilter lives in a converted church on Hill Street.

His loft is one-fourth of the 1867 building, and hints of its former life come through in an exposed brick wall and the tall windows of an old sanctuary. The two-bedroom apartment was renovated in 1980.

"It's not terribly large," Quilter said of his 1,500-square-foot home.

But the limited space is balanced by an amenity any city-dweller appreciates: its proximity to Baltimore's business core.

"It was very appealing to have a neighborhood that I could walk to work, and walk to downtown," said Quilter, whose daily commute is to the Benton Office Building, a mile away. In two minutes, he can drive to Interstate 95, he said.

Or, in about the same time, he can walk to the ticket counter at Oriole Park at Camden Yards or M&T Bank Stadium.

That's one of the perks Bill Cole takes advantage of by living in the neighborhood.

Cole, president of the Otterbein Community Association, has lived with his wife and two children there for four years.

"You can eat dinner at home and then walk over" to the baseball stadium, Cole said.

Game-night parking can get pretty rough for sports fans and Otterbein residents alike. Parking is controlled by city permits.

"Suddenly you have friends that you didn't know," Cole said, but by and large, the two stadiums sandwiching the tiny enclave are "fairly good neighbors."

The B&O warehouse cushions some of the noise from Camden Yards, Cole said. But even if Ravens games can get rowdy, people who choose to live downtown understand what living in a "vibrant" neighborhood means.

Besides, Cole added, "Everybody that I have ever brought in to see the neighborhood has said the same thing: It's gorgeous."

With aesthetic standards as high and uncompromising as Otterbein's, it should be striking.

Because it is a historic neighborhood, changes to the area's structures must be approved with Otterbein's architectural review committee. Covenants on property in the area require that facades on the dark brick rowhouses conform to the neighborhood aesthetic. A limited range of period-authentic colors can adorn the windows and doors. No air conditioners may be visible from the street, where old-fashioned lanterns line the narrow cobblestone streets.

"You're not going to find any hot-pink paint," Cole said. "It's very traditional."

"Most people look at that as a positive thing," said Craig of Long & Foster, noting that potential homebuyers don't seem to mind limitations on external remodeling since the neighborhood is so attractive.

"I like the historic character of it a lot," Quilter said. "I can't say it's the most affordable neighborhood, but it does have a range of housing."

In fact, housing prices in the area have dipped in the past few years, according to LiveBaltimore, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes the benefits of living in the city.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.