Old Goucher neighborhood offers tours of renovation

April 22, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

Old Baltimore grudgingly reveals some of its best secrets, and I recommend spending a few hours snooping around the Old Goucher neighborhood tomorrow, when this part of North Baltimore opens its doors for an annual historic house tour.

I am hardly an impartial judge of all this. For one thing, I never made it out of these parts and have friends who reside here. That disclosure made, let me air my enthusiasms.

Even though I daily pass by many of the houses and buildings on the tour list, that doesn't mean I get through their doors. I cannot recall the last time I walked inside the heart of what had been the Goucher College campus, Goucher Hall, a huge Port Deposit-granite building now serving as the Lab School of Baltimore.

Be prepared to hoof it. The tour planners have selected sites from 26th and Calvert south to North Avenue. Last year, when the weather was nearly perfect, this pilgrimage was close to a sellout. I was amazed at the interiors and varieties of houses, often within a few steps of one another.

What better way to spend a spring Sunday afternoon than to drop by houses where owners have often focused their energy on restoration? People who devote years to those places earn my respect and awe. The houses here are not small. This neighborhood will never be confused with Fells Point or Canton.

I share an affection for the roomy, dark, drafty three-story Baltimore rowhouse. Where else can you store all that stuff, hide from relatives and climb so many stairs? And while they can be impractical and quirky, these places give the raspberry to Levittown efficiency and economy.

They don't get any better than Brian Jensen's 21st Street rowhouse, once the residence of Ford's Theater treasurer George Ford.

Jensen rescued this house in 1976 when it had fallen on very hard times. The place was vacant and filled with old mattresses and empty liquor bottles. He thinks it had been a boarding house at some point, perhaps after Goucher College had moved to Towson and the neighborhood's Victorian tone was in ill repute.

Jensen is an exhibition specialist at the Smithsonian in Washington and takes the nearby MARC train to his job. And if the Smithsonian is often called the nation's attic, then Jensen's house is Baltimore's third floor.

Using his restoration wizardry, and ability to make or fix anything, he has re-created a dazzling basement kitchen, Latrobe stove, working dumbwaiter, servants' call bell system, pull-chain toilet, vintage phones, working Wurlitzer pipe organ, Oriental gong doorbell and, I believe, a 1930- something Buick in the garage. I have a weakness for old-house museums, and this could be one of the more fascinating I've ever witnessed. All rooms but one will be open. (His cats will be locked in one room for the duration of the event.)

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Adult tickets are $10 and will be sold at Lovely Lane Methodist Church, St. Paul and 22nd streets. The sites are open from noon to 4 p.m.

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