Quiet `in-between area' not far from downtown


`It's the best move we never made, staying here,' a community activist says

Neighborhood Profile : Medfield

July 03, 2005|By Will Morton | Will Morton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

People in Hampden used to dream of moving up to Medfield.

The resurgence of "The Avenue" shopping district, however, has helped fun and funky Hampden eclipse its neighbor to the north. As a result, Medfield has emerged as a quieter, more family-oriented alternative to Hampden.

"Nobody knows who we are, where we are," said Tom Kerr, 61, who has produced the neighborhood association newsletter for 10 years. "We're between Hampden and Roland Park, and everybody knows Hampden and Roland Park."

Kerr had looked for a house in Baltimore County but ended up buying on Edgehill Avenue, down the street from where he was born.

"It's the best move we never made, staying here," he said.

Bounded by Cold Spring Lane, Falls Road, 41st Street and the Jones Falls Expressway, the neighborhood has several distinct parts. Rowhouses built in the 1920s line Weldon Avenue, while 1950s-era rowhouses dominate the rest of the neighborhood's southern section. The northern half features some condominiums and rental apartment complexes and mostly one- and two-story single-family homes with larger yards.

"It takes me two hours to cut my grass," said Paul Smith, the neighborhood association president, bragging about the size of his yard.

Closeness to Interstate 83 and two light rail stations offer quick access to downtown.

Home prices in Medfield jumped 75 percent from $83,138 on average in 2002 to $145,720 in 2004, according to Live Baltimore, a nonprofit that promotes the benefits of living in the city. Eighty homes sold in the neighborhood last year, compared with 268 in Hampden.

"We're getting a little runoff from the Hampden appreciation," said Alex Smith, a Coldwell Banker Realtor who has two properties listed in Medfield.

Many houses feature hardwood floors, often hidden under old carpeting. Sellers often resist pulling down old paneling, pulling up carpet and shining up the floors before putting their houses on the market, said Genie Schwind, a resident and agent with Long & Foster who has a listing in the neighborhood.

"The young people think you're hiding something," she said. "They want all that gone."

Part of Medfield was built on the grounds of the Medfield Academy, a 19th-century prep school believed to have stood near 42nd Street west of Falls Road, according to the community Web site. Baltimore annexed the southern half of Medfield in 1888 and the northern half in 1918. By the early 1960s, residential construction in Medfield was largely complete.

In many cases, children have bought or inherited their parents' homes, residents said.

In the center of the neighborhood, Medfield Heights Park has a basketball court and three baseball fields. Friends School of Baltimore uses the park as its baseball and softball home fields and has added foul poles, upgraded benches and erected two scoreboards. Recreation league baseball teams also use the park.

With a normally low crime rate, Medfield's most persistent problems seem to be cut-through traffic and the occasional unkempt yard, but a double murder on La Plata Avenue this year rattled the neighborhood. Otherwise, the neighborhood suffered a few car thefts, break-ins and assaults through mid-May.

Most new residents are young professionals and young families seeking quick access to downtown.

"I notice more and more all the time - everybody pushing strollers," said Jean Hare, 80. At the same time, she lamented a less close-knit feel to the neighborhood than when she was a girl, when mothers would exchange patterns to make clothes for their daughters.

Families seeking better schools, more land and more house than in Medfield's typical three-bedroom homes are the ones moving out, Realtors say. They often head up Interstate 83 to Carroll County and Pennsylvania or out Interstate 95 to Cecil County.

Elderly residents tend to move into a senior living facility nearby at 3939 Roland Ave. in Hampden, which lets them stay close to their old neighborhood.

Most neighborhood children attend either Medfield Heights Elementary or St. Thomas Aquinas School, a Catholic school on Roland Avenue.

Medfield is known for being host to part of the mayor's annual Christmas parade, which heads south on Falls Road and continues east through Hampden.

"When we have our Christmas parade, anybody who's moved out always comes back," said Kerr, parade chairman for 35 years.

Topping the list of neighborhood problems are traffic, transit and trash.

Drivers seeking to avoid stoplights on Falls Road often cut through on Grandview Avenue. The neighborhood asked the city a decade ago to reverse some of its one-way streets, but it got speed bumps instead.

Falls Road traffic became heavier after a Superfresh grocery store was built a decade ago on 41st Street. The city added left-turn lanes and adjusted the traffic signals at the intersection. While the changes helped drivers make left turns, the traffic signal lengthened the wait for everybody else.

"It must be three minutes long," said Schwind, a Medfield native. "It makes me cry."

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