Happily ensconced in Mount Vernon

Dream Home

Co-op owner finds joy in architecture

August 09, 2008|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to the Sun

When the lure of living in a historic city neighborhood combines with a love of Beaux Arts architecture, there are few Baltimore residences more appealing than Washington Place, situated at the foot of Mount Vernon's Washington Monument.

Eleven years ago, Jane McConnell came to Baltimore to begin a new job. There was no doubt in her mind that she would live downtown. The native New Yorker had always been a city dweller, and she looked at properties in the neighborhoods of Federal Hill and Fells Point. But it was Washington Place - a six-story, cast-stone-faced building highly decorated with swags, medallions, cartouches, flowers and shields - in Baltimore's undisputed cultural district that lured her in.

"You have to love the building and the architecture," said McConnell, executive director of Maryland Medicine Comprehensive Insurance Program and a divorcee with three grown children. "And love the city for its conveniences."

That love led her to purchase one of the building's 30 units, hers being the entire north wing of Washington Place's fourth floor. She paid $92,000 for the 32-foot-deep-by-75-foot-wide apartment and would invest an additional $200,000 in improvements that included the installation of central air conditioning, a total kitchen remodeling, repainting the 2,400-square-foot unit and refurbishing the oak and mahogany floors.

Because Washington Place operates as a co-op - in this case, a company of unit owners governed by a board of five people who own shares in the building - McConnell had to seek permission to do any work on her unit to be sure that it would not interfere with the integrity of the architecture.

The interior design of the building, dating to the 1906 construction, features elaborately fashioned plaster ceiling molding, window frames of mahogany, 12-foot-high ceilings, heavy pocket doors, carved wood and marble fireplaces (McConnell has two), porcelain bath tiles and intricately designed wood-and-glass interior French doors.

A cast-iron cage elevator, operated by doormen sharing 24-hour duty, takes visitors to the front door of McConnell's apartment. A spacious foyer is the only area in the house that does not have a window.

Because the building has been designed in a U-shape, each room boasts one of three views - an interior courtyard, buildings to the west and north, and, as from the impressively large living room, a magnificent view facing east onto Mount Vernon Square.

French doors open onto a bright dining room off of the foyer. Here, McConnell decorated the top half of the walls with wallpaper, a cheery Jacobean print of flowers and birds. The lower half of the walls is paneled. A 10-foot-long, mahogany dining table in Queen Anne style rests under a gleaming brass chandelier.

Living room furniture, mindfully scaled to a pair of rooms occupying the entire east side of the unit, includes two traditional tuxedo sofas and a mahogany grouping of a table and Federal-style chairs. Framed art from China are reminders of McConnell's visit to that country.

West of the living room and dining room, three bedrooms and the kitchen are situated off a long hall. Pointing out that she loves to entertain and host meetings in her home, but is not fond of cooking, McConnell shows off her kitchen, a tidy room with Corian countertops, ceramic tile backsplashes, white laminate cabinets and white appliances. A door opens onto the fire escape looking down onto the courtyard.

"When I bought this house, all I wanted to do was [install] air conditioning," McConnell said, "but once you start looking around ... "

Her sentence trails off as she leads the way down the hall to a master bedroom painted a soft shade of periwinkle blue. Cream-painted shelf units display a collection of framed family photos, while a brass bed takes center stage in the room.

What would be a second bedroom is used for what McConnell calls "community activities," and a third bedroom serves as a den, complete with a corner office.

McConnell has no plans to leave what she calls a "very safe building in a quiet, historic neighborhood."

Looking back over her 11 happy years in Washington Place, McConnell says, "I thought this [home] would be my folly ... or the best investment I ever made."

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