`Welcoming' rowhouse

Dream Home

Large Union Square residence was built in the 1800s for a wealthy family with servants

Dream Home

Real Estate

October 27, 2006|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to the Sun

From the threshold at the entrance hall of Ron and Betty Brown's home in Southwest Baltimore, fireplaces can be seen blazing in three rooms.

Crystal chandeliers, hanging from intricately carved plaster ceiling medallions, glow softly as scented candles flicker.

Oriental carpets rest on floors of random-width Georgia pine, the planks reflecting the flames from the hearths. A grandfather clock chimes.

"We want this home to feel welcoming," Betty Brown said, standing at the front door.

The story of the Browns' house began in June 1975, when Ron Brown accepted a job in the office of city Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman. A contingency to his employment was that he had to purchase a home in the city within six months. The couple sold their suburban Reisterstown Road home and chose a three-story, brick rowhouse in historic Union Square.

"It was autumn when we first saw the neighborhood," Betty Brown remembered. "The trees were beautiful, neighbors were out. ... There was this sense of pioneering."

The Browns and their young son moved into the 18-room, circa 1850 house in January 1976, paying $25,000 for the structurally sound property, which needed restoration.

"The interior walls are two bricks thick, and the exterior are four bricks thick," said Betty Brown, a 59-year old shock trauma nurse.

Even with good "bones," restoration of the 7,000-square-foot home soaked up $100,000 in materials and large amounts of time as the couple tackled most jobs themselves.

"We lived at the old Ward's," Betty Brown said, laughing, referring to the Monroe Street Montgomery Ward store and distribution center, now redeveloped as the Montgomery Park office complex. "We used 60 gallons of paint and over 50 gallons of urethane."

The house was built by the Donnell Brothers in the mid-1800s, one of seven designed as fitting residences for wealthy families with servants. It has 10 working fireplaces, three guest rooms, four sitting rooms, an office, a master suite, a game room, two downstairs parlors, a dining room, a kitchen, a finished basement and three full baths. There are front and back staircases.

"We have friends who visit and become so comfortable they don't want to go home," Betty Brown said. "So we give them a guest room."

The couple also often put up families of University of Maryland Medical Center patients and visiting youth group members from the Christian Community Center next door. Ron Brown is on the center's board, and his wife is a volunteer there.

In this impeccably restored home with Federal period furnishings, Betty Brown has a few rooms that she is particularly fond of.

"We live in the kitchen," she said.

There, a floor-to-ceiling fireplace with an arched opening is fashioned of sand-mortared brick. Colonial in appearance, it defines the decor for the rest of the room, which includes stained mahogany cabinets and wainscoting on the bottom portions of the walls.

The generous 15-by-25-foot dining room, with its burgundy painted, slate mantel and hearth, is her favorite. A crystal chandelier hangs above the 8-foot long Sheridan table and an oriental carpet in dominant shades of red.

Parlors separated by pocket doors take up the front of the first floor. Each is decorated with Federal pieces that include a camelback settee upholstered in striped silk and two large Queen Anne wing chairs of gray leather.

As in many of the high-ceilinged houses of the period, there are two levels on each of the upstairs floors, with a few steps ascending to servants quarters in the rear. A favorite bathroom on the second floor features a claw-foot tub and a small fireplace to keep the bather warm.

Joking that she and her husband couldn't afford to buy back their house today, Betty Brown takes particular pride in having tackled a job that she refers to as a "step back in time."

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Write to Dream Home, Real Estate Editor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or e-mail us at real.estate@baltsun.com.

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