He slept here

Editorial Notebook

January 26, 2008|By Will Englund

In 1939, as France and Germany prepared for war, the French government awarded a huge rush contract to the Glenn L. Martin Co., of Middle River, for planes. Almost overnight, says Jack Breihan, a history professor at Loyola College, Martin's employment jumped from 3,000 to 10,000. (Four years later it would be 54,000.) Even as bombers began to roll off a new assembly line in a factory that still lacked a roof, Martin had to figure out where to put all those new workers. So it went into the housing business.

The first development was Stansbury Manor, on Wilson Point Road, a garden-apartment complex that was designed to separate cars from pedestrians, in a fashion that was very cutting-edge in the late 1930s - and that is still attractive today. There are two dozen two-story snug brick buildings with red shingle roofs, taupe trim and a little bit of stone work as an accent; they have a very New Dealish look to them.

They were supposed to be for riveters and welders, but the cost of materials was too high and only white-collar workers could afford the rent. That's how it happened that a young Navy lieutenant named Richard M. Nixon came to be living there a few years later. Paul Musgrave, special assistant to the director at the Nixon library at Yorba Linda, Calif., reports that Navy records show him listed at 900 Wilson Point Road, Middle River, Md., as of December 1945. He was there, with his wife Pat, to settle a terminated war contract with Martin.

Now, the Baltimore County Historical Trust has proposed that his residence be put on the county's landmark list. It has, says David Marks, the trust's vice chairman, both architectural interest and an association with a historic person.

There's nothing grand or pretentious about Stansbury Manor, but that's fitting for a future president, and the buildings speak to us today of a less-showy era defined by Depression and war. The Nixons lived in Apartment D, one of two center apartments, which they gained access to through a central archway.

The county's Landmarks Preservation Commission takes up the proposal Feb. 14. There's a lot to be said for giving No. 900 a historic designation, even though it's not terribly old, and even though one of the historic hallmarks of Mr. Nixon's presidency was that he had to resign from it.

As Mr. Marks points out, No. 900 is emblematic of its era, and, face it, as close as Maryland is to Washington, this state hasn't had much association with American presidents over the years. Jimmy Carter lived at the Naval Academy for three years, and every president since Franklin Roosevelt has gone to what is now Camp David - but other than that, the pickings are a bit slim.

In a campaign speech in 1972, Mr. Nixon tried to establish his links to a number of Eastern states, and pointed out that he had lived in Middle River for two months. (Philadelphia had a claim on him for just six weeks; the war kept a lot of Americans on the move.) The connection must have worked, because he carried Maryland that November.

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